Tag Archives: MoneySense

10 things you need to know about selling your home

By Sheryl Smolkin

One sure sign of spring is the “For Sale” signs sprouting on lawns across the country along with the dandelions and tulips. Whether you are downsizing or upsizing, you want to get the best possible price for your home.

If you live in a house long enough it is easy to overlook the watermark on the ceiling where the shower leaked or the wear and tear on the kitchen cabinets. But prospective buyers will notice everything. Unless you spruce the place up a bit, your house may take a long time to sell and the proceeds of sale might be much lower than the listing price.

Here are 10 things you can you can do to increase the odds that you will get top dollar for your house:[i]

  1. Internet ready: Most prospective buyers let their fingers do the walking first on the Internet and they want to see pictures. That means you have to make ensure your home is photo-ready and even hire a professional photographer.
  2. When to list: Spring and fall are typically the best times to list. Families with children often prefer to move at the end of the school year. The curb appeal of homes can be higher in these seasons and buyers may be more in the mood to house hunt when they don’t have climb through snow. However, in prime time there also may be more competing listings in your area.
  3. Improve curb appeal: Take down the Christmas lights. Put away snow shovels. Make sure the grass is cut and either plant flowers or buy flowers in pots. If the paint on the outside trim or the garage door is worn, arrange for touch-ups. House hunters will very quickly form a first impression of your home when they drive up.
  4. Clean it up: Wash carpets, walls, dust the chandeliers, clean bathroom grout. A 2010 Home Sale Maximizer Survey by the blog HomeGain estimated the cost of scouring and organizing a house at about $200 and the resulting expected home price increase at $1,700. That’s an 870% return on your investment!
  5. Declutter: The larger and more open your home appears, the easier it will be for buyers to imagine living there. Get rid of piles of magazines or newspapers. Thin out the books on your bookshelves. Put away or store kitchen appliances that take up scarce space on your counters.
  6. Paint: If your paint job is in poor condition or you currently have distinctive or dark colours, consider a paint job in a neutral colour or white. It will make your home look larger, cleaner and brighter.
  7. Stage right: You may have either too much or too little furniture and other stuff on display. Take the advice of your real estate agent or a staging professional. Put items in storage if necessary and change the layout of the rooms. Get rid of small items on coffee tables and side tables. If you have moved out, rent furniture so prospective buyers can envisage where their things will fit.
  8. Upgrade the hardware: Are your light fixtures outdated with burned out bulbs? How about the handles on your kitchen and bathroom cabinets or the mirrors? Upgrading small things at a small cost can often enhance the look of your home.
  9. Relocate the pets: Fleecy and Fido may be much-loved members of your family, but that doesn’t mean somebody else’s family will feel the same way. During the period your house is for sale, give your pets a vacation. And make sure all sign of them like balls of fur growing in corners and the kitty litter are removed.
  10. Fresh smells: If your house smells musty, of cigarette smoke, pet odours or last night’s dinner, buyers will be turned off. Air out the house. Get rid of old smelly carpets. Avoid air fresheners because many people are allergic to scents or find them offensive. A real estate agent once told me to boil cinnamon or bake cookies (and leave them on a plate) before an open house.

[i] See Get top dollar for your home

 

Aug 18: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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In this week’s Best from the blogosphere we revisit some of our old favourites who have appeared repeatedly in this space.

First of all, congratulations to Robb and Marie Engen who are pioneers in the world of personal finance blogging. This week they are Celebrating Four Years Of Boomer & Echo. Their articles have been featured in the Globe and Mail, MoneySense, the National Post, and MSN Money.  They’ve been interviewed and quoted in numerous online and print magazines, and recognized as one of the best personal finance blogs in Canada.  Robb also writes a bi-weekly column in the Toronto Star.

On retirehappy, Jim Yih crunches the numbers to find out if it makes good financial sense to Rent or own vacation property in Vernon, B.C. He concludes that the amount of $16,000/year it would cost to carry the property probably cannot be recouped by renting the unit for part of the year. He also decides that renting makes more sense because the property may not increase significantly in value over time.

Tim Stobbs keeps us up-to-date on his retirement journey on Canadian Dream: Free at 45. Therefore I was initially surprised when I saw I Hate Hard Work is the title of one of his recent blogs. But it makes more sense when he clarifies that he would rather work smart than work hard. That means even at the office he tends to focus most of his efforts on high impact items, so although he doesn’t work hard Tim says he is more effective than the majority of his co-workers.

“I just refuse to spend lots of time working on something when in fact if I focus on the core items I can get 80% of the work done with a mere 20% of my effort,” he says.

The Big Cajun Man, Allen Whitton reminds us that Lifestyle Creep is like “Feature Creep,” a term used in high tech development teams, where someone keeps trying to shove more and more into a release of software or hardware, thus slowing things down, and eventually making the whole thing unusable. In other words, if every time you get a raise or pay off a debt you use the money to buy a bigger house, a newer car or more consumer goods, your financial picture will never really improve.

And on Brighter Life, Kevin Press asks the perennial question, Why is financial literacy such a stubborn problem? He shares the following thoughts:

First, he thinks it’s a mistake to argue that personal finance is uniquely difficult to teach and learn. It is a complex and technical subject certainly, but so are dozens of others. We could just as easily be sweating about why so few Canadians understand how to take care of their cars.

Second, the complexity of the subject is not the issue. The problem is the way we are trying to teach it. Adult learning theory explains a number of things about how adults prefer to be taught new information.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Jim Yih – retirehappy.ca

By Sheryl Smolkin

27Feb-retire happy with Jim

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Click here to listen

Hi,

Today we are continuing with the savewithspp.com 2014 series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers by talking to Edmonton-based financial educator and author Jim Yih.

Jim’s blog Retire Happy was recognized as the 2011 Best Personal Finance Blog in Canada by the Globe and Mail. He is very active in social media and also made MoneySense’s 2013 list of the top 10 financial tweeters.

While he has been blogging for just over three years, Jim is well known as a personal finance columnist in the Edmonton Journal and other Canadian media for the last 14 years. He also has written eight books.

His company Retirement Think Box consults with innovative employers to incorporate financial education and wellness into their benefit programs using the full spectrum of communication tools including workshops, web-based learning, audio/video presentations and electronic newsletters.

Thank you so much for joining me today Jim.

Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited about this Sheryl.

Q. Jim, you are well known to Canadians as a result of your column in the Edmonton Journal for over a decade, your books and your speaking engagements. Why did you also decide to also start a blog?
A. Good question! Originally, the blog was simply a place to host all of the articles that I have written over the past 17 years. I never realized what blogging would evolve into and how interactive it can be.  At the end of the day, the reason for RetireHappy.ca is to help Canadians retire to a better life and make retirement the best years of your life. I hope that does not sound too cheesy but RetireHappy is a major Canadian resource for retirement, investing and personal finance. We really focus on timeless information.

Q. Tell me the topics that are covered in your blog?
A. Retirement is a big topic and we try to cover issues around things like investing, taxes, money management, estate planning, government benefits (very misunderstood) and really any issues around general finance.  We even cover lifestyle issues like health, working in retirement and psychological issues.

Q. How often do posts appear? How frequently do you personally post?
A. We publish new content 3 to 4 times a week. I used to write 2 to 3 times a week but it got to be too much.  I have a fulltime business as you mentioned. Now I only write once a week and I have brought on a team of other writers to provide opinions and content.

Q. Tell me about the group of other bloggers who post regularly and the added dimension they bring to the blog on a day to day basis.
A. I’ve been around for over 23 years in the financial industry. I’ve got lots to say and opinions to share but I also believe there are many different ways, ideas and strategies to achieve success. So I’ve brought on some great writers in the last 18 months with lots of experience and ideas and I think it makes for a better experience at RetireHappy.ca.

  • Donna McCaw is retired and travelling the world and sharing practical retirement experiences. She has also written a retirement book called “Its Your Time”
  • Sarah Yetkiner has built a nice following with her articles on money personalities and the psychology of personal finance.
  • Doug Runchy is very active and specializes in writing about government benefits.  He responds quickly to all comments and he’s just a tremendous resource for our readers.

I’ve assembled some successful great financial advisors like Scott Wallace and Wayne Rothe. And we’ve got some other writers coming aboard this year like Chad Vinimitz, Sean Cooper and Meagan Balaneski. So we’re increasing our contingent of writers and I think it’s proven to be a good strategy.

Q. How many hits does your blog typically get?
A. We get 5000 to 10000 page view per day. We have thousands of people on our newsletter and email list and following us on Twitter. I’m humbled by how quickly this has grown and the size of our following.

Q. What have some of the most popular blogs been?
A. Since inception, my articles on CPP and taking CPP early have been consistently popular.  And now with the addition of Doug Runchey talking about it, all the articles on CPP and OAS continue to grow in popularity.

But we also have some Online guides that are designed to be great resources for readers. The most popular is our Online Guide on RRSPs, next would be the one on RRIFs, others include one on RESPs, Government Benefits and Financial Advisors. We are currently trying to update all of these.

Q. If someone is checking out your blog for the first time, should they just dive in, or do you recommend a place to start?
A. There is so much there. We often talk about how to make it easy for readers when there is 17 years of content on the site. So I have 3 suggestions:

  • Use the search bar at the top. Type in anything related to retirement and personal finance and we’ve probably written about it.
  • There’s also archive page where we’ve organized every article by category.
  • Or if you have no idea what you are looking for, start at the bottom of the home page with the must read articles and the most popular articles.

Q. What have some of the spin-offs from blogging been for you? 
A. I think its interacting with awesome people online that is the most rewarding. I’ve met a lot of cool people across Canada and even around the world.

I’ve connected with great Media personalities like Rob Carrick, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Bruce Sellery, etc. I’ve met awesome bloggers like Frugal Trader, Preet Banerjee, Blunt Bean Counter, the Canadian Couch Potato, Boomer and Echo, Tom Drake and so many others.

I also love interacting with readers who write in and tell us how the site has helped them.

Q. I recently read that Scotiabank found that 31% of Canadians planned to contribute to their RRSP for 2013, down from 39% last year. And BMO said 43% of those surveyed planned to contribute, down from 50% in 2013. Why do you think these numbers are dropping?
A. We live in a world that’s all about spending. Every major holiday has turned into an excuse to have a big giant sale. Saving money is simple but not easy. Spending is easier. Spending is more fun. There are more opportunities to spend than to save. That’s led to too much debt and I think for all of us, this can led to lower savings.

Q. What role do you think participation in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan can play in Canadians’ retirement saving plans?
A. What I like about SPP is that they have tried to make savings simple, easy and affordable. I think a lot of people need that. SPP has simplified investment options, the fees are lower, the returns are decent and the process is streamlined and easy. You can even contribute using your credit card!

I think the easier we make it for Canadians to save, they more likely they will do so. More choice sometimes paralyzes people from making decisions. So I think simpler options are necessary and SPP has done that and it’s available to all Canadians.

Q. How can people calculate how much they will need to retire and the amount of money they need to produce that income stream?
A. The average Canadian will need $2.654 million dollars by the time they retire . . . .

That’s a fictitious number of course, but we are all seeking a number. There are millions of calculators out there to help people find it.

However, for most people, the calculation is less important than their savings rate.  The formula is so simple. This is not rocket science. Save 10% of your income for as long as you possibly can. Start as early as you can. The more you save the more you will have in retirement.

Q. What do you think the biggest hurdle is for Canadians who want to get their financial affairs in order and save for retirement?
A. For most people, the hurdle is themselves. You need motivation, action and discipline. Eighty percent of what you need to become financially successful and retire happy you already know:

  • Put together a game plan
  • Set goals
  • Spend less than you earn
  • Pay off debts
  • Pay yourself first
  • Know your spending

Q. If you had one piece of advice to help Canadians get over this hurdle, what would it be?
A. Do something but not too much. Make small changes one step at a time. Find some like-minded people to support your goal. Try to make it fun. If you are competitive try to compete with someone to meet or exceed your savings goals.

Thanks Jim. It was a pleasure to talk to you today.

I really enjoyed our discussion, Sheryl.

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 RetireHappy, you can find it here and subscribe to receive blog posts by email as soon as they’re available.

Dec 23: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Wreath

As the year draws to a close, I am pleased to join brighterlife.ca in celebrating some of the best Canadian retirement writers in 2013. I thank them for including me on the list.

Week after week we link to these and other fine bloggers who freely share their time and considerable insight with us. To get to know some of these people a little better in 2014 savewithspp.com will present a series of podcast interviews with prominent personal finance bloggers.

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Retire Happy. Follow financial expert, author and speaker Jim Yih on Twitter: @jimyih

MoneySense. Follow MoneySense Magazine editor Jonathan Chevreau: @JonChevreau

Boomer and Echo. Follow mother-and-son financial writers Marie and Robb Engen: @BoomerandEcho

Sheryl Smolkin. Follow this lawyer and financial journalist: @SherylSmolkin

Unretired Life. Follow coach, consultant, speaker and author Eileen Chadnick: @unretiredlife

I’m a sonic boomer… not a senior. Royce Shook writes about issues important to Boomers, grandparents and others, who are changing what retirement looks like.

Canadian Dream Free at 45. Follow engineer and financial writer Tim Stobbs on his journey to early retirement: @canadiandream

Everything Zoomer. Follow executive editor and travel writer Vivian Vassos (@vivianvassos) and associate editor and arts and culture writer Mike Crisolago (@MikeCrisolago)

Grey Routes and Tips. Follow travel-for-grownups writer Jane Canapini: @janecanapini

Best from the Blogosphere will be taking a three week break, but I look forward to bringing you more great retirement and money saving ideas beginning again in mid-January.

Have a happy, healthy holiday season with friends and family.

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Real or artificial Christmas tree? The pros and cons

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

I am probably the wrong person to be writing about the pros and cons of real vs. artificial Christmas trees because we never celebrated Christmas or had a tree. Instead we lit Chanukah candles for eight nights and ate too many potato latkes (pancakes).

However, my research reveals that that the “real vs. artificial tree” debate is a perennial one, and the issues are somewhat different than I initially expected.

From purely a cost perspective, there seems little doubt that purchasing a well-constructed, long-lasting artificial tree is less expensive than buying a real tree every Christmas. In fact, in a Moneysense article published last December, Stefan Dubowski suggests that an artificial tree can be as much as $400 cheaper over 10 years.

He also notes that artificial trees are cleaner, there are no needles to gather up and no water reservoir that leaks or spills all over the presents. And it is less of a hazard because most artificial trees are fire resistant, whereas real trees dry out, making them more likely to burn.

He outlines characteristics you should look for in an artificial tree and recommends a pre-lit tree so you can avoid wrestling with tangled strings of lights each year. After reviewing four high-end trees sold last year at major Canadian retailers, he concludes that the Martha Stewart Living Pre-Lit Sparkling Pine Tree from Home Depot ($289) has the longest warranty (five years on the tree and two years on the lights) and is the best value overall.

But what about the environmental impact of real vs. artificial trees?

Some might make the case for fake trees because they are re-used every year and thus don’t generate the waste of their real counterparts. But fake trees are typically made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is one of the most environmentally offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum derived plastic.

Several known carcinogens may be generated during PVC production polluting neighbourhoods near factory sites, many of which are in China. Furthermore, fake trees are not recyclable or biodegradable, so when they are disposed of they will fill up landfill sites for an indefinite period.

In contrast, the Saskatchewan Christmas Tree Growers Association reminds us that:

  • Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.
  • For every real Christmas tree harvested, up to three seedlings are planted in its place the following spring.
  • Real trees are environmentally friendly. They produce oxygen, sequester carbon, provide shelter for wildlife, help control erosion and are biodegradable.

However, what is more important is that selecting, bringing home and decorating a real tree is an important part of the holiday tradition for many families. Buying a tree at a department store and reassembling it every year may be a cheaper option over time, but opting for a real tree instead of an artificial tree is a decision you make with your heart.

Want to weigh in on the real vs. artificial debate? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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:

13-Nov Holiday gifts Ways to save money on winter driving
20-Dec Transportation Ways to save money on gas
27-Dec Coupons Coupon websites that can save you money

Oct 14: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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From almost the first day you started working, you began saving for retirement by paying into a pension plan or an RRSP. But now that you are on the “home stretch” to life after work, have you decided what you are going to do with your time?

Brighter Life’s Dave Dineen says now that he is retired, “What do you do?” is the question he dreads the most. Read how he seizes the day, does whatever he likes and makes up for lost time.

On FreefromBroke, Brianna discusses 9 things to do when you retire. Go back to school, travel, volunteer, start a business or start a blog! Suddenly your options are endless.

Huffington Post, senior editor Ann Brenhoff ponders how so many aspects of her personal life flow from her work. She says, “For my retirement equation to balance, I need the sense that I am essential to something or someone. And that’s what I fear trips up a lot of us. Is taking a photography class at the library really going to rock my boat?”

Daniel, a guest blogger on Boomer and Echo took a package after a 40 year career. Since then, he has had opportunities to work part-time but he is so busy with hobbies that he no longer wants to be tied down to a calendar.

And David Ashton notes in an August 2012 MoneySense article that Canadians can no longer rely on pensions, government benefits and bull markets to carry them through their golden years. He offers 7 strategies to make your money last including reinvent your job and cash in on the equity in your home to move to a less expensive area.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere. Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

What to do on your staycation

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

I am convinced that there are two kinds of people in this world. The first group includes workaholics who never use up all of their paid vacation days. The second group carefully plans how each vacation day will be used and yearns for more.

This dichotomy was recently illustrated in the results of the 2013 Expedia.ca Vacation Deprivation Survey which revealed that employed Canadians forfeit an average of two days of vacation per year which could be used to relax or travel. This amounts to 32 million untaken days and $5.1 billion in wages handed back to employers.

Yet many Canadians show a strong desire to take time off, with one in five employed Canadians saying they would take a lower salary for more vacation time (22 per cent). Also, “an extra vacation day” tops the list of perks employees would like to receive as a reward for company loyalty.

In many organizations vacation days cannot be carried over to the next year, so it’s “use it or lose it.” But even if you can’t afford to take expensive trips to exotic locations, there are plenty of good options for taking a staycation close to home.

Wikipedia describes a staycation as “a period in which you or your family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in your own beds at night.” You might make day trips to local tourist sites, swimming venues or engage in activities such as horseback riding, paintball or visiting museums.

The benefits of staycations are that they are far less costly than a vacation involving travel. There are no lodging costs and travel expenses are minimal. However, to make it feel like a vacation, budget for local trips, one or two meals out and tickets to local attractions.

Since 2011 the Government of Saskatchewan has funded the “Saskatchewanderer” project. One creative, energetic and motivated student has been hired each summer to discover everything that makes Saskatchewan great. Their job was to visit, video and blog about special events, little known gems and remote locations in the province.

You can learn from their experience. Andrew’s 2011 Adventure, Jeff’s 2012 Adventure and Caitlin’s 2013 Adventure include lots of terrific ideas about things to do on your staycation regardless of what part of the province you live in. Also check out the The Saskatchewanderer on Facebook.

Already this summer, a few of the places and events Caitlin has visited include Regina’s 46th Annual Mosaic: A Festival of Cultures; the PotashCorp Children’s Festival in Saskatoon; Grasslands National Park; and Hudson Bay, SK.

In contrast, Jonathan Chevreau, the editor of Moneysense and author of Findependence Day has a different take on staycations. In a blog posted on June 17th, he says one type of staycation is where you continue to work, but on your own projects rather than for your employer. You can also tackle various chores or home improvement projects.

If you still have a day job but have reached the point where you have several weeks of paid vacation a year, Chevreau says you may find a working staycation is an excellent trial run for retirement. He wrote the first edition of Findependence Day in the summer of 2008 during paid vacation weeks from his newspaper staff columnist job.

Whether you decide to travel on your vacation or spend the time working on pet projects closer to home, don’t forfeit paid vacation days. In years to come, no one will have fond memories of the extra time you put in at the office. But your children and your grandchildren will remember your quality time together, even if you went no further than the pup tent pitched in the front yard.

Do you have tips for people planning staycations? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR 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:

8-Aug Garage sales How to make money on your garage sale
15-Aug Back to school Back to school shopping: A teachable moment
22-Aug College/University Stay at home or go away to school?