How hiring a professional organizer can save you money

March 19, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you have been meaning to clean out the garage, tackle the mess in your home office or ream out the cupboards under the kitchen sink for years but haven’t gotten around to it, maybe it’s time to hire a professional organizer.

While many organizers charge an hourly fee, others work on a project or package basis. Fees typically depend on the organizer’s area of expertise, geographical location, how far he/she has to travel and what competitors are charging. As a result, professional organizing fees can range anywhere from $50 to $175 per hour plus GST and provincial sales tax.

That may seem steep until you think about how paying someone to get you organized can actually save you money. For example:

  1. If your desk is so cluttered that credit card bills and utility bills are buried, you may be paying hundreds of dollars or more in fines or late payments on overdue payments.
  2. Lost receipts and warranties could mean that when your appliances or latest tech toys break down you may have to bite the bullet and get new ones instead of getting free repairs or replacements.
  3. Avoid having to make last minute visits to the store to buy ingredients for your favourite recipe, only to find that you have several open and unopened packages in the back of your pantry.
  4. Because archived unopened packages and cans of food quickly become stale-dated you may find yourself regularly pitching pricey unused ingredients after their “best before” dates.
  5. Time is money. How much time do you waste every week looking for the sweater that goes with your outfit, only to give up and wear something else because you have no idea where you saw it last?
  6. If you have several children close in age, clothing in good condition can be handed down to the next child. That’s if you can find what you need when you need it. Unless items are washed, sorted by size and carefully packed away, you will end up buying the same thing all over again for the next baby.
  7. Finding a newer, bigger place to live is expensive and disruptive. If you can only get the basement cleaned up and organized you may find you actually have lots of space for a home office or a playroom for your children.

Until recently in both our current home and the previous one, organizing my husband’s workroom seemed like an insurmountable challenge. There were large pieces of equipment he never used and it seemed impossible to safely and neatly store his amazing collection of tools acquired over many years.

Because it was so cluttered he found it very difficult to do any creative wood working and I got irritated every time I went downstairs to do the laundry. We finally hired a professional organizer last spring because my son was moving back home temporarily and we had to free up as much space as possible for his stuff.

In about 12 hours on three separate days he worked with my husband to organize both the work room and the garage. As a result, my son did not have to pay to store his boxes because we found room for them. The organizer carted off several pieces of useful equipment and found them a new home. Also, he put a kiln and a wheel from Joel’s pottery-making days on Kijiji and managed the replies.

There have been several cases where Joel couldn’t find things after the organizer left because they were carefully put away in a place that intuitively made no sense to him. But overall, we are delighted with the result and there is one less thing for me to grumble about.

You can find a professional organizer using the search tool on the Professional Organizers in Canada website. If you have the inclination to organize other people’s messes for a living, you can also find information about training and accreditation as a professional organizer.

Dan Wesley knows how to save a buck

August 14, 2014

By Sheryl Smolkin


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Click here to listen


As part of the 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, 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.


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.


How to find a holiday season job

November 7, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Whether you are saving for retirement several years from now or you are already retired and want to augment your income, the upcoming holiday season is the prime time to get a part-time or temporary job.

If you are considering seasonal work, playing Santa Claus at the local mall may not be on your wish list. But there are lots of other jobs available at this busy time of year. Examples may include:

  • Sales associates and cashiers in retail stores
  • Gift wrapping and customer service positions
  • Waiters, bartenders and other restaurant/catering staff
  • Various positions at hotels, resorts and ski lodges
  • House sitters, pet care, dog walkers, groomers
  • Baby sitting and child care.

How do you find out who is hiring?

Many employers advertise both full and part-time positions on their own websitesKijiji, Craigslist and job boards like and In early October on 13,205 jobs of all types were posted in communities across Saskatchewan.

But don’t just let your fingers do the walking. In a recent article, Monster Senior Contributing Editor Mark Swartz says you should grab a handful of resumés, put on comfortable shoes and hit the streets. Arriving in person lets you apply for jobs on the spot. And if you get there during the day when it isn’t too busy, you have a better chance of speaking with a manager.

Here are some other ways you can find seasonal work:

  1. Contact a previous employer: If you have done full or part-time work before and your employer was satisfied, chances are they will jump at the chance to hire you again. A known entity beats combing through piles of resumés to find a suitable candidate.
  2. Apply for multiple jobs: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Apply for more than one position so if the first one doesn’t work out you have something to fall back on.
  3. Temporary placement agencies: Companies looking for seasonal workers often list them with a temporary agency. They may need replacements for people taking vacation or additional staff at their busiest time of year.
  4. Social Media: Use your Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook account to search the site for local companies that are hiring. Be sure to ask your contacts on each site for any job referrals.
  5. Posting ads: If you are interested in pet sitting, see if you can post an ad at the local pet store or veterinary clinic. Ads for babysitters and child care will attract attention on school and community billboards.
  6. Shopping Mall websites: Check out mall websites. For example, the Midtown Plaza in Saskatoon has listings for open positions at various stores.
  7. Get the word out: Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, former co–workers, etc. and ask them if they know of any companies that are hiring for the holiday season.
  8. Be adaptable: Employers often hire seasonal workers because they are open longer hours during the holiday season and regular staff can’t or won’t work on holidays. If you are prepared to work whenever you are needed, you will be a much more attractive candidate.

Do you have hints for readers looking for seasonal or part-time work? Share your tips with us at 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:

14-Nov Work expenses Why you should pack a lunch
21-Nov Money management How to choose a financial planner
28-Nov Avoiding fraudulent scams Latest scams to avoid

Cleaning your closets? What to do with the stuff.

May 16, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


Do you buy new clothes every season and then realize you already have a similar item in your closet? When you are trying a new recipe, do you check the cupboard first to see if you have all the necessary ingredients or do you automatically add them to your shopping list? Are toys your children have outgrown still cluttering up the house?

Cleaning closets and purging are no fun. But every now and then you can no longer avoid the inevitable. And it’s worth it, because you will be able to “reclaim” expensive real estate in your home, save yourself time in the future and even save some money.

However, the biggest problem is often what to do with all the stuff you have excavated from your closets or your basement. Here are some ideas:

  1. Sidewalk recycling: One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In our neighbourhood if you put something on the curb, it will disappear in a few hours. This occurred when we recently got rid of a broken TV and a baby carriage with flat tires.
  2. Recycle Saskatchewan: This website tells you what items can be recycled, where you can take them and gives lots of ideas how items that are still in good condition can be re-used. Also check out the Saskatchewan section of
  3. Clothing swap: If you have gently used clothing you or your children have grown out of, arrange a family or neighbourhood clothing swap. Everyone brings items they can no longer use and returns home with “new” items to enhance their wardrobe.
  4. Jewelry: If you have gold jewelry you don’t like and you don’t wear, consider cashing it in. The price of gold when I wrote this blog on April 9th was $1611.24 per ounce so depending on what you have it could be a real windfall. I sold some jewelry several years ago and gave the diamond chips to my daughter for her wedding band.
  5. Old cell phones: Donated cell phones are helping to protect battered women in Saskatchewan, thanks to a program called “Phones for a Fresh Start.” So long as the phones are in working order, they can be a valuable lifeline in an emergency.
  6. A garage sale: One sign of spring is the proliferation of garage sales on beautiful weekends. You can put up fliers in the neighbourhood, announce your sale on social media, or post to craigslist or Kijiji.
  7. Sell online: Depending on the nature of the items you want to get rid of, consider selling them online. Here are some great hints about how to sell your items in 24 hours or less on craigslist.
  8. Donate to a charity: Various charities are happy to receive donations. In some cases you may get a charitable receipt. For example, the Saskatchewan Institute of Community Living is a non-profit organization that collects donated clothing and other household items throughout Saskatchewan. All proceeds from the items you donate support individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Have you recently done a massive cleanup in your closets or your basement? How did you get rid of your old stuff and make some extra cash? 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:

23-May Budgeting How to set up a budget and why
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

Jan 21: Best from the blogosphere

January 21, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


This week’s best blogs are a mixed bag.

If you have a give-away pile accumulating in your basement or garage, Marc Saltzman says you may be throwing away items that could be be sold on Kijiji or Craigslist.

Ellen Roseman reports on how ignoring a 3-cent balance affected a reader’s credit rating so she couldn’t get the mortgage she needed for her new house.

On Boomer and Echo, we learn the true cost of tapping into your RRSP nest egg early.

Jim Yih concludes Freedom 35 is possible but not likely unless you have sufficient passive income to support your lifestyle.

And if you are thinking about giving up on savings altogether, MoneySense editor Jonathan Chevreau says you may also be giving up the chance for financial independence while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.

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.