Tag Archives: Indigo

Gail Vaz-Oxlade: Achieve financial literacy on mymoneymychoices.com

By Sheryl Smolkin

 

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Hi, today I’m kicking off the 2015 SavewithSPP.com expert podcast interview series. I’m delighted that Gail Vaz-Oxlade has made time in her busy schedule to talk us.

Gayle is truly Canada’s money maven. She has worked in the financial services arena for 25 years as a writer, reality-television host, public speaker and corporate spokesperson. Over the last several decades she has published 15 personal finance books, four of which were on the best-seller list at the same time in January 2012.

She has also filmed almost 200 episodes of her television programs, Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess and Money Moron. In addition, she regularly blogs and answers questions from readers on gailvazoxlade.com.

But, what I’d like to talk to her about today is mymoneymychoices.com, an online financial literacy program she founded just over a year ago.

Welcome Gayle.

Hi, thanks for having me.

Q: So Gayle, how do you define financial literacy? How big an issue is lack of financial literacy in this country? 
A: The issue itself is huge because most people already know most of what they need to know but aren’t doing it.

Q: You describe mymoneymychoices.com as Canada’s first comprehensive financial literacy program designed to raise the money IQ of Canadians by drawing on community support, a solid financial roadmap and gamification for reinforcement. How did you come up with the concept?
A: I was actually between television shows. I had a big whack of time off and I read about an organization in the U.S. that that used positive peer pressure in order to change behavior. So I laid out this roadmap of everything you need to do in the order I think you need to do it in, to build a rock solid financial foundation.

Q: What are your goals for the program?
A: Really what I want people to do is stop saying “I don’t know where to start.” If you go to mymoneymychoices.com and register – it’s absolutely free – and you just take the steps as they are given to you in the program, then you will work your way to being financially healthy. I want people to come together in communities and support each other, teach each other and work together in order to increase their community’s financial literacy. 

Q: You say the first level is the hardest. Why?
A: In the first level, which I say has all the heavy lifting; you have to do your six-month spending analysis. You also create a debt repayment plan to get your consumer debt paid off in 3 years or less. You have to build a budget and you do your first net worth statement.  And very often I find that people don’t understand why the pieces are necessary. I say to people all the time, if you do the net worth statement today and it looks really bleak, it’s irrelevant, because it’s not where you are today. It’s how different it will be when you do it in six months for the second time.

Q: Do you have any sponsors or partners? Or, are you solely responsible for the development and maintenance costs of the site?
A: I would love sponsors to support us, but the thing is that, whenever you affiliate with anyone, typically what happens is they then have some say in what you do. And so I bore the costs of the development of the site myself and I set up the My Money My Choices Foundation, where I’m taking donations. In late 2014 I ran an Indiegogo campaign and raised $3,785.

Q: Is My Money My Choices, aimed at any particular age or demographic?
A: No it’s not. The reality is it doesn’t matter if you are 23 or 43. If you’re not aware of where your money is going then that’s the first place you have to start. If you’ve done all those things already you can just pick through those on the program until you get to the level where you are implementing something new for yourself. For example, it might be the level in which you investigate disability insurance and life insurance

Q: Give me briefly how the program works. I see there is a leader board and different prizes and levels.
A: The prizes are really icons. They are what you can use to show the world where you are and how you are progressing through the steps.

Q: What is the community element? From what I read on the website, you can’t do this on your own. You’ve got to be part of a tribe or a team.
A: You can do it on your own because anyone can use the roadmap. However if you are working within a tribe then what happens is you benefit from the support that comes along with that. When you have a whole community cheering you on, or kicking your butt depending on what you need that day, you’re much more likely to get back on the horse if you get bucked off.  That’s part of the purpose of the community.

The other part is that some people within a community are very good at some things and other people are very good at something else. And, when you bring it all together you create cohesion, together with process, together with management skills. When you bring all those things together you make it much stronger than each individual trying to do all the pieces alone.

Q: What role does the watcher play?
A: The watcher is the first guy to do the teaching. Typically the watcher is someone who has some money expertise whether it is official or not. And that person’s job is to help the first few people go through level one, and then guide those same people through the various other levels and encourage them to bring more people into the tribe so that they can become teachers and mentors to their own protégés. Ultimately, the watcher will manage the whole process and say “okay, this is how we’re doing as a community.”

Q: If a group of people want to get together and participate in your game on your website, do they have to have a watcher or does someone become a watcher because they are the first one who gets through the levels?
A: I’ll give you an example. I was invited to speak to a church community in Thornhill a few weeks ago, and I agreed as long as they set up a My Money My Choices tribe as part of the process. A gentleman named Emilio who is well along the way because he’s been following me for years became the watcher for that church community. He set up a Facebook page so people could communicate with each other. He made sure that there were books in the library so that the resources were available if people needed help making a budget or doing a spending analysis. He did all the administrative and support stuff to make sure that as people started coming into the program they didn’t get sidelined by small issues.

Q: That’s really cool. So it’s 23 levels. Can you give me some examples of what participants learn as they progress through the various levels?
A: Sure. The very first level, as I said is the hard one because what’s it’s laying the ground work for everything else. Once you’ve done level one you move on up to the point where you are putting process in place. You’re using a spending journal. You’re posting to your budget every single month. You know where your money is going. As you move up you also start allocating money to savings. You get your debt paid off. Ultimately, the reason there are 23 steps is because I don’t expect people to go from 0 to 100 in 12.2 seconds. It takes time.

Q: So you say you’ve had 8,000 people register on the website. How many of them have progressed through all the levels?
A: Nobody yet.  Because at the last level you are maximizing your RRSP, you have paid off your mortgage, you are maximizing your tax-free savings account, and you’ve got all your consumer debt paid off. This is a process. You are incrementally improving your financial position all the way along in very, very small steps.

Q: There are ways to earn extra points. What do you do with those points? What do they do for you? 
A: This is a very interesting phenomenon. One of the pieces of research shows that the points in and of themselves are what people want. They don’t care what the points translate into. It’s human nature. We like to gather things. We like to accumulate things. We measure our success in points. We like the point system.

Q: What kinds of things do people do to earn extra points?
A: It’s the idea that every time you post to your spending journal or push your spending journal to your cash flow budget you acquire more points. The reward system is based on action. If you are actively participating, you keep accruing points.

Q: Do you have any plans to changing or enhancing the program,?
A: I’m not going to touch the My Money My Choices program as it currently exists. I worked on it for about two years before I actually put it up. I think it covers all the bases. If people send me good resources to supplement it, I will add those resources over time once I have vetted them. But really, I don’t have to reinvent stuff if it’s okay and it’s working. What I want to do is use some of the Indiegogo money to create more of a presence on the internet that helps people find the program.

Q: You always seem to have dozens of projects on the go. Is there anything new and exciting still in the developmental stage you can tell us about?
A: I have a new book coming out in January 2016 called “Money Talks, When to Say Yes and How to Say No.” And that will deal with all the relationship side of money. How do you have those really difficult conversations that people just seem to be avoiding? Whether it is the conversation you have before you get married or the conversation you have with your parents because they keep hitting you up for money and you are dead sure they don’t have a retirement plan. So it’s all about having these difficult conversations and how best to position them.

Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today Gayle.
A: Oh, my pleasure.

13Jan-GVO2

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about mymoneymychoices.com and how to play the game here. All of Gayle’s books are listed here and can be ordered from Indigo or Amazon.

BOOK REVIEW: 397 ways to save money

By Sheryl Smolkin

Earlier this year we interviewed Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox as part of our Personal Finance Bloggers series. Although Squawkfox has been blogging infrequently over the last few months, her blog continues to be a hilarious and invaluable resource for money saving tips.

So when I was looking for books with great cost containment ideas to review for savewithspp.com readers I was delighted to come across Kerry’s book “397 ways to save money” published in 2009. As I flipped through the book, it became apparent that the vast majority of her suggestions have stood the test of time.

This 275 page book is divided up into four parts with several chapters in each part:

  • Big Decisions: (renting, home ownership, financial choices, shopping)
  • Home Management: (home maintenance, energy, cleaning)
  • Room by Room: (kitchen, living room dining room, kids room, garage etc.)
  • More ways to save: (vacation, pets, cheap family dinners, monthly maintenance checklists)

Here are 10 of my favourite tips in the book:

  1. Change your ATM habits: Use only your bank’s ATM machines to make withdrawals. Know how many free ATM withdrawals you can make each month from your account. Some banks offer free accounts including ATM withdrawals for seniors.
  2. Don’t insure your kids: The purpose of life insurance is to serve as income replacement for the insured’s dependants. Pass on agents who try to sell you on the investment aspects of a cash value policy. Instead, save for your child in a registered educational savings plan (RESP).
  3. Barter to save money: Generally bartering is the trading of goods and services without the use of money. Check out the website U-exchange.com to find like-minded people to swap services such as website building for a haircut.
  4. Pass on extended warranties: Don’t buy extended warranties on inexpensive product like cameras and kitchen appliances. The only time a warranty makes sense is if a repair will devastate your budget.
  5. Don’t pay for shipping: Look for a free shipping option when you order from an online store. Many online retailers offer free shipping when you buy up to a specified dollar amount in merchandise.
  6. Turn off all electronic devices: Turning off your unused electronic devices like gaming consoles and computers is an easy way to save electricity. By turning on your computer only when needed for three hours each day rather than running it continuously can save you $75/year.
  7. Watch the price scanner: Mistakes on electronic price scans are common at the grocery store. Watch as your items are scanned at the checkout and you could save many dollars per month and even score free food. The Retail Council of Canada has a Code of Practice and a list of participating stores you can read here.
  8. Open the dishwasher to air dry dishes: Skip your dishwasher’s heat dry cycle by opening the dishwasher door to air dry dishes after the final rinse. I do this frequently because the full cycle is ridiculously long. Its mice to know it also saves me money.
  9. Skip the sofa bed: A sofa that can be used as a bed may seem like a good idea if you have frequent guests, but they can be much more expensive that a regular couch. They take a lot of room you may not have to open and even top of the line models may be uncomfortable. A blow up bed is easy to inflate and move and a queen size costs around $100.
  10. Buy clothing at the end of the season: Winter in Canada is interminable and most things are on sale by December 26th at the latest. If you can make it through the fall with last year’s wardrobe you can refurbish it with quality items at half the cost or less late in the year.

I really like the Hardware Store Shopping List for all of the do-it-yourself energy-saving projects so you save money on gas. However, by the time you fill your cart with items like caulking, weather stripping, attic insulation, low flow showerheads, programmable thermostats, dimmer switches for lights and compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace incandescent, you will definitely have a big upfront bill.

This is a great book to read once, go back to and help you set achievable goals for saving money. You can browse several chapters here and order the book online from Amazon or Indigo for about $11.00.

Kerry K. Taylor

BOOK REVIEW: EASE Manage overwhelm in times of “Crazy Busy”

By Sheryl Smolkin

Most of the books reviewed this year on savewithspp.com have been about personal financial planning and retirement. However, it’s hard to hold down a job and save for retirement if you are always overwhelmed and crazy busy both at work and at home.

Does that sound familiar? Then Eileen Chadnick’s new book “Ease” may help you find the balance you need to break the cycle.

Chadnick is a leadership coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto with more than 20 years of experience in diverse careers including coaching, public relations, fitness and writing. Her articles regularly appear in the Globe and Mail.

Are times of “crazy busy” the new normal? Chadnick says the season of “rush” is now year-round. Demands of work and life continue to accelerate to unprecedented levels. In Ease, she offers a toolkit to manage “overwhelm” in our daily lives.

Here are some of the tools for organizing your life Chadnick explores in detail.

  1. Get it out of your head: Write it down
    Making lists seems pretty basic to me because that’s how I’m wired. But lists covering short and longer term personal and work objectives can certainly help you stay focused.
  2. Get a grip on your schedule
    Don’t schedule two activities back to back in different parts of the city. Build in more responsible time margins. And schedule “white space” — time for yourself — into your agenda.
  3. Prioritize and triage
    Use priorities to establish boundaries but maintain appropriate flexibility. Having clear priorities will act as a compass for how to spend your limited time and give you a reassuring map when there is too much to do.
  4. Manage distractions
    Ah yes. Facebook, surfing the web and email are notorious distractions. But non-urgent interruptions by colleagues and family members can also throw you off course. Identify distractions, manage the expectations of others and create systems for handling email.
  5. Reign in the multitasking
    Being able to multitask is generally viewed as a positive attribute. But if you spend your entire day juggling tasks with little time to focus, you will likely use much more energy and feel more depleted than if you utilize the same amount of hours focusing on serial tasks.
  6. Learn to say no
    Learn to manage your reflexive “yes” habit and how to appropriately say no when it counts. Acknowledge the request. Share your reasons for declining. And where possible make another offer that is more doable. For example, “While I can’t participate in that project I’d be prepared to attend a preliminary brainstorming session so others can run with some of my ideas.”
  7. Managing the paradox of choice at the buffet of life
    Be aware of and take responsibility for the work and life choices you make. Just because you love to golf doesn’t mean you have to play two or three times a week and beat yourself up when you can’t. Take one course a semester instead of two. It may take longer to get your degree but you’ll have time to do other things.
  8. Tame your inner critics
    Do you have an inner voice constantly telling you that the job will never get done or you will never be able to manage? It often comes out when you are tired or can’t sleep. Know your triggers. Become masterful at self-observation so that you can recognize those inner-critic moments and transition to your resourceful, reasonable self.
  9. Climb your mountain one step at a time
    Step back from any project or task and break it down into pieces. Then attempt one step at a time. Remember — small steps add up to a solid journey.
  10. Clear the cache
    Experts say that sometimes the best way to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem is to walk away from it for some period of time. Taking breaks from an issue can trigger a switch that increases mental function, creativity and productivity. Take a walk, go to the gym or bake a cake. While you unplug and shift gears answers will come to you.

I particularly like the chapter on the importance of positive thinking. In one of my early jobs I had a hard time adjusting to the company culture and initially blamed my unhappiness on other co-workers. Shortly after when I decided to stop complaining and take a more positive, constructive approach, my work and my relationships became a lot more manageable.

Much of Chadnick’s advice is common sense and you have probably heard most of it before. However, taken together and with explanations grounded in neuroscience, her ideas form a powerful roadmap for getting your life in order. She is available for private coaching, to speak to book clubs via Skype and to present at conferences.

She can be reached at eileen@bigcheese-coaching.com. You can also check out her website. Ease can be purchased from Chapters/Indigo online for $12.24. In addition, it is available as an ebook for your Kobo or Kindle.

Eileen Chadnick

Book Review: THE SMART DEBT COACH

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Talbot Stevens is so confident that his book “The Smart Debt Coach” can save you money, that he is offering a free refund to anyone who doesn’t think they can save at least $1,000 by applying the basic principles he discusses.

The book is written in the style of a “self-help novel” like David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber and Jon Chevreau’s Findependence Day. The main characters are Joe, Michelle, their friend Kim (physician and single mom) and financial advisor Bruce.

When Joe’s sister Lisa asks his family to join them on a Caribbean holiday, they are reluctant to do so because it will mean further maxing out their credit cards. Then Joe realizes Lisa saved the money in advance for the trip and he wants to learn more about how she accomplished this on a lower family income.

She explains that on the advice of their parents (which Joe ignored at the time) for over 10 years she and her husband have been working with Brian, a financial advisor. Since his death they continue to get similar advice from his nephew Bruce.

It turns out that Bruce (a widower) is the parent of one of the kids on the hockey team that John and Michelle’s son plays on. Kim (divorced) is also a hockey mom. While watching the games week after week, they quiz Bruce on basic financial concepts and eventually John and Michelle retain him privately.

And so their journey to a better financial future begins.

Bruce goes through a goal setting exercise to help them establish priorities and negotiates a contract which clearly sets out the responsibilities of both the financial coach (Bruce) and the clients (Joe and Michelle).

One of the first strategies Joe and Michelle learn about is “Debt Swapping.” Essentially this means if you have high interest credit card debt plus unregistered investments, you can cash in your investments, pay off the debt and then borrow at a lower rate to re-populate your investment account.

This is a win-win because they will pay less interest on the investment loan and they can write off the interest expense against any investment income.

But based on the maxim that “a penny saved is a penny earned,” Bruce also illustrates how avoiding credit card debt and other unnecessary expenses represents real money in their pockets. Furthermore, their advisor demonstrates they are not getting the full benefit of their RRSP contributions if they spend their tax return instead of topping up RRSP accounts.

Like the wealthy barber, Bruce encourages John and Michelle to “pay themselves first” by setting up automatic withdrawal of monthly RRSP contributions and increasing contributions every year by a specified percentage. He says that in most cases saving 8% of income and inflating deposits yearly by 3% produces a larger retirement fund than saving 10% without ever ramping up savings.

He also motivates them to be more frugal in other areas and buy a slightly used truck instead of a new one to reduce monthly car payments. Some more complicated strategies recommended later in the book include taking out short-term loans to top up RRSP contributions and using a second tax refund from RRSP top ups to fund registered educational savings plans for their children.

In addition there are chapters on other smart debt strategies, a common sense way to beat the market and how being a landlord can pay dividends.

However, by the time I read about 80 pages I found myself skimming to try and pick out the relevant financial information without having to wade through the somewhat contrived story. I was also disappointed that there was not a point form checklist of the basic ideas I could use for future reference.

The book is extremely readable and the advice is good. While it is far from a romance novel I was not surprised that after all those hockey games (spoiler alert), Bruce and Kim are a couple by the end of the book.

Unless you are already doing everything Stevens suggest (and few of us are) it is unlikely that you will be able to honestly collect on his money back guarantee for the book. Even if you don’t read it cover to cover, you will discover some new strategies you can use to map your own road to a healthy financial future.

You can purchase The Smart Debt Coach for $15.67 on the Chapters Indigo website.

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Book Review: FAMILY, KIDS, MONEY

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Kevin O’Leary is one of North America’s most successful entrepreneurs, as well as a star of CBC’s Dragon’s Den and ABC’s Shark Tank (where he will appear exclusively next season). He has co-founded, funded and sold numerous companies in a wide range of industries. Kevin is currently the Chairman of O’Leary Funds, a billion dollar mutual fund and O’Leary Mortgages. He also co-hosts CBC’s The Lang and O’Leary exchange.

In his most recent book “Cold Hard Truth on Family, Kids and Money,” O’Leary takes a life cycle approach to decisions creating a financial family dynasty. Unlike most of the books we have reviewed in this space, the focus is less on the precise details of budgeting or saving money and more how to choose a mate, build a long-lasting marriage and pass on good financial skills to your children.

He starts by describing his mother’s second marriage which lasted 46 years because it was based not just on love, but on shared personal and financial values. He says, “Marriage is like a pizza pie, where love is only one slice.” Therefore, he firmly believes couples should date for at least three years to really get to know each other before marriage.

He also recommends that couples complete individual “financial due diligence” work sheets before sealing the deal. This comprehensive questionnaire covers educational background, employment history, personal debt and any criminal history.

O’Leary acknowledges that this may not seem very romantic. However he says there is nothing that will kill the romance faster than finding out after the wedding when you apply for a mortgage that your partner is deeply in debt and has a terrible credit history.

Not surprisingly, he also believes the reason many arranged marriages work out is because before setting up a first date a good matchmaker will consider the couple’s temperament, education, personal values and attitudes towards money.

When it comes to the kids, O’Leary says the most important thing you can give them is your time. But an early MBA (money and banking awareness) comes a close second. Every financial interaction with your child is an opportunity to teach by example whether you are buying groceries or visiting your investment advisor.

Because financially illiterate children turn into financially illiterate adults, he encourages parents to teach them the basics at home from a very early age. “There’s no need to make lessons too complex for kids. Don’t spend too much. Mostly save. Always invest. These are the building blocks,” he says.

Always an entrepreneur, O’Leary is a big fan of the wealth that family businesses can create. But he uses anecdotal examples to illustrate the money mistakes you can make in a family business and the fixes. For example, he says don’t be in a rush. It’s better to do your research first and produce a quality product. And if the business doesn’t make money in three years, he advises you to cut your losses and move on. It’s a hobby not a business.

Finally, he confronts head on some tough issues like the financial implications of a divorce and the high cost of retirement homes and long-term care. He is an unabashed advocate for the purchase of long-term care insurance.

The book covers a lot of territory and in some sections it feels like a series of individual essays rather than a cohesive whole. Even if you do not fully agree with every aspect of O’Leary’s business-like approach to love and money, you are bound to find some good ideas to apply to your own family and finances in this 262-page book.

You can buy Cold Hard Truth on Family, Kids and Money online from Indigo. The paperback costs $11.47 and the Kobo version sells for $12.99.

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Book Review: MANAGING ALONE

By Sheryl Smolkin

Making a will and getting our financial affairs in order is something we all know is important, but many of us never get around to it. Younger people in particular often feel they are invincible and that it is too soon to think about death and dying.

But people die as a result of illness or accidents at all ages. And where they have not done the necessary planning, spouses left behind may not have the money or information they need to pay the mortgage, support their children and move on with their lives.

“Managing Alone” is a self-published book by Manulife Certified Financial Planners Jennifer Black and Janet Baccarani (co-owners of Dedicated Financial Solutions). The authors use 10 fact scenarios to help both young and old widows and widowers in different situations coping on their own without the help and support of their partners.

The book is short (119 pages) and easy to read. The stories are based on actual situations encountered by Black and Baccarini while advising clients. Each chapter focuses on two or three critical financial issues for the widow or widower profiled. Only a few of the many topics covered are how to:

  • Locate and access your deceased spouse’s assets.
  • Claim government benefits available to widows/widowers and their children.
  • Deal with final expenses and your spouse’s final tax return.
  • Establish your own credit and financial identity and why this is important.
  • Obtain the right insurance coverage at the lowest possible cost.
  • Manage if your spouse did not leave a will.
  • Get family affaris affairs in order when death of one spouse is imminent.

A story that should resonate with younger readers is about Kayla and Jacob, a couple in their 20s with three young children. When Jacob drowned on a fishing trip without a will, Kayla had no idea how to manage the family finances. To compound matters, all of Jacob’s bank accounts were frozen. The bank also refused to pay on the mortgage insurance policy because he had traces of alcohol in his blood at the time of death and was engaged in “a dangerous activity.”

This chapter discussed in detail how Kayla met with a financial planner who advised her to use the proceeds of Jacob’s small insurance policy to cover expenses until she could get a job. He also helped her to develop cash flow projections and cut back on expenses so she could get by without selling the house.

Several years later she remarried and her new husband adopted the children. As part of their financial planning, the couple opened joint bank accounts; switched the ownershp of Kayla’s house to joint ownership; made beneficiary designations on company pension and insurance plans; purchased life and disability insurance with named beneficiaries; and drafted wills and powers of attorney.

Another interesting scenario features Walter and Anna, a financially well-off couple in their 60s. Anna died suddenly of bacterial meningitis. Eventually Walter felt ready to meet a new companion again, but his family was concerned that unscrupulous potential partners may try to take advantage of a grieving spouse. Working with his lawyer, accountant and financial planner in consultation with his children, Walter set up a trust to protect the estate. This section clearly explains the different kinds of trusts and how to set them up. He also updated his will and powers of attorney.

At the end of every chapter, there is a work sheet where you can fill in points to think about that may apply to you and questions to ask your advisor.

In addition to the book, the authors have established the website widowed.ca, a free online resource for widows, widowers and their loved ones, providing an easy way to locate a wide variety of information and services needed after the loss of a cherished companion.

You can find articles, event notices, Q&As, discussion forums and links to government websites on this frequently updated and valuable resource.

I highly recommend this book for couples, the recently widowed and their family members. The website covers an added continuum of valuable information and networking opportunies. Information on purchasing a print or electronic copy of the book can be found here. The ebook for Kobo can also be purchased from Chapters/Indigo for $10.99.

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Jennifer Black
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Janet Baccarani

Book Review: STOP OVER-THINKING YOUR MONEY

By Sheryl Smolkin

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In his new book “Stop Over-thinking Your Money,” Globe and Mail personal finance columnist and television personality Preet Banerjee says personal finance is a lot like physical fitness. In order to be in better shape, everyone knows they have to work out and eat well. A personal trainer delivers results, not by showing clients a new way to perform sit-ups, but rather by simply making sure the sit-ups get done.

Similarly, in this book Banerjee discusses in five simple rules how to think about money and focus on the 20% of what you really need to know in order to be in top financial shape.

Rule 1: Disaster- proof your life 
Investing is only one of many factors that affect your personal finances. If you are going to retire well at age 65 you have to put away money for a long time. But if you die, lose your job or become disabled before then, your long-term plans could go up in smoke. That’s why he says disability insurance, life insurance and an emergency fund should be the foundation of your financial plan. Wills and powers of attorney must also be taken care of early on. 

Rule 2: Spend less than you earn 
Spending less than you earn is the cornerstone of financial stability. It allows you to eliminate money stress and begin creating wealth. Here’s where you learn how to budget. Banerjee highly recommends Kerry K. Taylor’s electronic spreadsheets on Squawkfox.com. By starting with your old or current budget, the many undesirable things you spend money on like take-out coffee, fast food breakfasts and debt repayments will jump out at you. Then you can create a new budget and start tracking your spending more diligently. Surplus can be allocated to savings. 

Rule 3: Aggressively pay down high interest debt 
Thou shalt not carry credit card balances! When you have high interest debt, the amount of cash flow it ties up on a monthly basis is painful to calculate. Banerjee shows how you can transfer high-interest balances to low interest balances using a line of credit. Then he recommends developing a plan of attack for paying down your debt. While he acknowledges that changing spending patterns to alleviate debt is easier said than done, he says the only way to keep your finances on an even keel is to save more before you spend. 

Rule 4: Read the fine print 
From today forward, he instructs readers to read every word on any document they put their signature on. Gym memberships, cellphone contracts, loan documents. You name it. He gives the example of a friend whose wife could not collect on his mortgage insurance because the policy was underwritten at the time of death. The policy said it was invalid if he had any alcohol in his bloodstream while operating a motorized vehicle (a snowmobile in this case) when he died. In contrast, a life insurance policy underwritten at the time of purchase paid out within two weeks. 

Rule 5: Delay consumption
The fifth rule is simply an extension of the first. Stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses. As you earn more money or get a bonus don’t get caught up in lifestyle inflation. And avoid the monthly payment trap. Think seriously about whether house renovation is actually an investment and if the personal gain from expensive hobbies is really worth the cost.

Throughout the book Banerjee keeps returning to the message that if you wait to make a perfect plan you may never start. And in the beginning, building up lots of money depends more on putting money away than making money grow because of smart investment decisions. You can control how much you save but you have almost no control over market performance, he says.

This book is an accessible, quick read but like any guide, it is up to you to buy into Banerjee’s five financial rules and implement them. He calls them the roadmap to an easy “A” in personal finance.

But when you are ready for a more sophisticated “A+” strategy he would be happy to provide additional guidance along the way. Who knows? That could be his next book, But until then, you can find him on twitter @preetbanerjee. He is looking forward to hearing from you!

You can buy a hard copy of Stop Over-thinking Your Money online at Chapters/Indigo for $13.68. An ebook from Kobo can also be purchased and downloaded.

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Book Review: RRSPS THE ULTIMATE WEALTH BUILDER

By Sheryl Smolkin

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If an alien parachuted into Canada in the first two months of the year and needed to quickly understand the what, when, why and how of registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs), there is no better source of information than Gordon Pape’s new book RRSPs The Ultimate Wealth Builder.

The prolific writer has authored and co-authored over 20 books with down-to-earth investment advice, many of which have become best sellers. And this one is definitely another winner.

RRSPs were created by Louis St. Laurent’s Liberal government and have been around since 1959. Of course as Pape explains, there have been many important tweaks along the way.

  • Contribution levels have jumped from 10% of earned income (maximum of $2,500) to 18% of the previous year’s earned income (maximum of $24,270 in 2014.)*
  • Since 1996, unlimited carry-forwards of unused contribution room have been permitted.
  • Contributions can be made until age 71. The maximum age was reduced to age 69 as part of the government’s austerity program in 1997, but raised back to 71 in the 2007 budget. Now there is growing demand to bump it up further to age 73.
  • Registered retirement income funds (RRIFs) were added to the program in the 1970s, allowing taxpayers to further tax-shelter funds after retirement subject to mandatory minimum withdrawals.

Early chapters of the book set the scene with an extensive RRSP vocabulary (Chapter 2) and the rules relating to contribution levels, deadlines, carry-forwards and spousal plans (Chapter 3).

In Chapter 4 Pape says the most common mistake people make is to walk into their bank and say, “I want to buy an RRSP.” “You invest in an RRSP so the type of RRSP you select will have a huge impact on how your money will grow over the year,” he says.

If you are a regular RRSP contributor, you may think you have little to learn about the subject. But here are a few interesting tidbits I picked up that you may not be aware of:

  • You can contribute in one year and defer your tax deduction to a later year when your earnings are higher and the deduction is worth more.
  • If you don’t have sufficient cash but you have a self-directed RRSP, you can make a contribution “in kind” of another qualified investment at its fair market value. For example you can contribute a $5,000 GIC maturing in three years.
  • If you receive a retiring allowance or severance pay it can be transferred directly to your RRSP without withholding tax even if you do not have contribution room. You can transfer in $2,000 times the number of years or part years you were with the employer up to and including 1995 without withholding tax. You can also make an additional tax-free contribution of $1,500 for each year or part year prior to 1989 in which no money was vested for you in a pension plan or deferred profit sharing plan.

Pape also shares important details about making RRSP withdrawals for buying a home or returning to school and the complex RRSP mortgage and repayment rules.

For example, did you know that if your RRSP funds are used to invest in a mortgage for you or your children, interest payments have to be made at market rates?

In addition, non-arm’s length RRSP mortgages must be administered by an approved lender under the National Housing Act and insured either through Canada Mortgage and Housing or a private company like Genworth MI Canada.

Chapters 12, 13 and 14 thoughtfully address the perennial questions: RRSP or mortgage pay down? RRSP or debt pay down? RRSPs or Tax-free savings accounts.

The one area where I disagree with Pape is on the merits of an employer-sponsored Group RRSP. He says they are often not a great deal because employers can’t contribute to them directly; Group RRSP contributions reduce your total contribution level for the year; and Group RRSPs frequently offer a limited number of investment options.

In my experience working as Canadian Director of Research for a global actuarial consulting firm, smart employers view their Group RRSP as an important attraction and retention tool. They generally incent employee participation by grossing up salary to match or partially match employee contribution levels.

In addition, fees are often lower than individual RRSPs opened with retail financial institutions and there is a large (but not too large) selection of diversified investment funds for employees to choose from. Interactive websites plus in person and online education are also frequent valuable group RRSP add-ons.

What I do not disagree with is that RRSPs can be a powerful machine for creating wealth that you ignore at your peril! RRSPs The Ultimate Wealth Builder can be purchased online from Indigo books for $13. An e-reader version is also available for $13.99 from the Kobo bookstore.

*Contributions to the Saskatchewan Pension Plan of up to $2500/year form part of your RRSP contribution limits. You can also transfer $10,000 from your RRSP to SPP each year until you are 71 without tax consequences. In 2013 the SPP balanced fund earned 15.77%.

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Book Review: How to Eat an Elephant

By Sheryl Smolkin

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If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to finally get serious about your family finances, How to Eat an Elephant by financial planner Frank Wiginton is a book you may want to take a look at.

For many years when Wiginton’s clients have approached him to make a financial plan he has asked them to bring in a series of documents. Clients often said that the amount of work they had to do and the quantity of information they needed to pull together was overwhelming.

To help them overcome this fear and stress, he began breaking down the required information into smaller, much more manageable bite-sized pieces – i.e., “small bites of the elephant.”

This was the genesis of the “twelve step program” in his book covering topics ranging from goal setting, debt management, and insurance to retirement savings, estate and tax planning. Wiginton suggests that by using this guide and doing about four hours a month of “homework” readers can develop a realistic financial roadmap.

Each chapter includes a breezy discussion of the topic, “Frank thoughts” from the author and anecdotes about how using these techniques have benefitted certain individuals. At the end of each brief chapter summary you are directed to easy-to-use web tools that help you to collect the information and use the strategies described in the previous section.

I particularly like that Chapter 1 asks readers to “blue sky,” prioritize and price a list of 50 things they want to do right now. Then by identifying the major things that must happen to accomplish each goal, reviewing the list regularly and sharing goals with others they have a better chance of making their goals a reality.

Chapter 2 teaches you how to create a net worth statement and by Chapter Three, Wiginton finally  deals with the dreaded “b” word – budgeting. That’s where he gets into “needs vs. wants” and ways to break “the spending habit.” Ideas like using cash only, saving 10% and re-negotiating mortgages and telecommunications bills are not new, but seeing them in one comprehensive list is helpful.

When it comes to retirement planning, Wiginton says the first step is to determine what you want to do in retirement and what it will cost. Then he presents various retirement savings options and the tax implications of each one.

Wiginton notes that you may actually need less money than you think to retire because:

  1. You will pay lower taxes when you no longer are employed.
  2. For many people, expenses are lower once the mortgage is paid off and the kids have left home.
  3. People tend to spend less with age.

For example, when people are 60 to 70 years old they tend to be a lot more active than when they are 70 to 80 and the trend grows more pronounced with age.

As a result, in calculating what clients need, he usually reduces the amount of spending required by 15 or 20% around age 75 and by another 15 to 20% at age 85. However, he says that increasing costs of long-term care for seniors do have to be factored into the equation.

This is an engaging and clearly written book that runs to 274 pages of smallish print. There are no quick fixes but if you are prepared to work through it “one bite at a time,” by the end you will have a much better understanding of your finances and a plan that will help you achieve your personal financial goals.

The book is available in paperback or for Kobo and can be ordered for about $16.00 from the Chapters/Indigo website.

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