Tag Archives: Our Big Fat Wallet

Jan 25: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Even on a vacation cruise in South America for the last several weeks it was difficult to avoid media reports about the plunging stock markets in both the U.S. and Canada and the drop in value of the Canadian dollar.

On the Financial Independence Hub, Ermos Erotocritou, a Regional Director with investors Group Financial Services Inc. reminds readers that it’s reasonable to monitor day-to-day events, but it’s imperative to keep in mind that daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly market movements are often little more than noise for an investment portfolio that likely has a time horizon of many years. That’s why it’s so important to practice patience and discipline by remaining in the market, as opposed to abandoning it or believing that is the best way to preserve wealth.

Dan from Our Big Fat Wallet shares Lessons from a Financial Downturn from the perspective of an Alberta resident. First of all, he says “cash is king” because the more cash you have, the more flexibility it gives you. He also notes that with stock prices and housing prices falling in some areas, the emergency fund has suddenly taken on more importance. And finally, he acknowledges that investing is emotional but suggests that investors who are able to separate their emotions from investing have the potential to make impressive returns in a downturn.

In the Toronto Star, Gordon Pape also agrees that “cash is king” in times like these. He says it’s fine to be all-in when markets are positive, even if the growth isn’t robust. But in times of great uncertainty and high volatility such as we are currently experiencing, he likes to have some cash in reserve to cushion any stock losses and to deploy as buying opportunities appear.

It’s an economic downturn — not the Apocalypse, Alan Freeman reminds readers of iPolitics. He says, “This isn’t 2008, when we were facing the very real threat of the global financial system collapsing entirely. This is just an old-fashioned economic downturn — even if it will be quite painful for some in the short term.” Freeman comments that because Canadians depend on resources for a big chunk of our economic activity, we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re at the mercy of commodity prices. “Oil and metal prices that soar to unsustainable levels inevitably crash; they’ll recover this time around, as they have in the past, though perhaps not for a few years,” he concludes.

And finally, many people who do not have investments may be less worried about the stock market slide than the plummeting value of the Canadian dollar. In a Canadian Press article published in the National Post, Aleksandra Sagan reports that for every U.S. cent the dollar drops, food like fruits and vegetables that are imported will likely increase one percent or more in cost. While the increased costs have dealt a blow to everyone’s wallet, they have had a more pronounced effect on Canadians living on a tight budget or in remote regions, where fresh fruit and vegetables are more expensive than in more urban areas.

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.

Nov 23: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This week we are back to everyone’s favourite topic – how to get ready for retirement. If you haven’t already maxed out your 2015 Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSP and TFSA contributions, now is the time to make sure you are “on plan” before you start spending more than you can afford in the run up to the holiday season.

If you are not a Globe & Mail regular reader, check out the new Globe Retirement series. I particularly like Boomer retirement planning: A nine-step guide to ease your mind by our perennial favourite Rob Carrick. The publication’s online fee disclosure tool will show you how the advisory fees you pay compare with other investors.

Michael James on Money writes about Retirement Spending Stages. While there is evidence that older seniors spend less, he says spending too much in the early years of retirement could mean in your later years all you have left to live on is government benefits and any pension streams you may have.

In Save like this, retire like that – My story about early retirement in style Mark Seed interviews “RBull” from Canadian Money Forum who retired in 2014 in his 50s. He estimates that his savings rate averaged a little over 20% for about 20+ years. Approximately two years before retiring he sold almost all his stock positions to purchase broad market ETFs to simplify the portfolio, increase diversity and keep fees low.

Dan Wesley who blogs at Our Big Fat Wallet is in an enviable position. His TFSA and RRSP are Maxed Out and he is trying to decide where where to put his additional savings. Options include paying down the mortgage, opening a TFSA for his wife and opening a taxable investment account.

In MoneySense, Jon Chevreau discusses Saving mistakes you’re probably making. The single biggest mistake of course is NOT saving at all, says Adrian Mastracci, president of Vancouver-based KCM Wealth Management Inc. The easiest thing in the world is to spend 100% of what you earn or even worse, fall into debt. Chevreau says at the root of the failing-to-save mistake is the failing-to-live-within-your-means error.

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.

Jul 13: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Back from two weeks of vacation and back in the saddle! While it’s hard to get re-establish anormal routine, it’s not difficult to find many interesting personal finance stories and blogs to share with you because all of our favourites kept on blogging when I was away.

On Boomer & Echo, Robb Engen wrote about The Evolution of Loyalty Cards. Scanning weekly flyers and clipping coupons is a great Canadian tradition but he says that like the landline telephone, VCRs, and analog TV – coupons and flyers are on their way out. Retailers are moving online and developing smart phone applications to get more personal with their offers.

In Is Paying Down a Mortgage Underrated? on Our Big Fat Wallet, Dan says the real value of paying down the mortgage isn’t the interest savings. With rates as low as they currently are, the interest you save will likely be minimal. He suggests the best approach for anyone looking to use extra funds to pay down their mortgage is to consider a ‘hybrid’ approach – using the money to reduce the mortgage and then putting more money each month towards investing.

Blond on a Budget’s Cait Flanders has finally finished her year-long shopping ban. In a herculean 6,000 word blog The Year I Embraced Minimalism and Completed a Yearlong Shopping Ban she explains why she did it and how it changed her life. Flanders says, “There is nothing I need right now that could make my life better than it already is and that’s a great feeling to end this year-long challenge with.”

Globe & Mail reporter Ian McGuigan agrees that accumulating wealth is a challenge but he says that “decumulating” it can be trickier still. In a recent article he refers to the paper Making Sense Out of Variable Spending Strategies for Retirees written by Wade Pfau, a professor of retirement income at American College in Bryn Mawr, Penn. McGuigan notes that spending only 4% a year works out pretty well if you don’t want to outlive your money. It also keeps your spending at a constant level, in after-inflation terms. However, it’s not so good if you’re interested in being able to live as well as possible in retirement.

Guess who’s saving for retirement? The kids  reports Adam Mayers at the Toronto Star. While we often point the finger at young people as having limited interest and understanding of their personal financial affairs, Sun Life finds that’s not so. Younger workers know a good deal when they see one and like all smart consumers they’re snapping it up. Only 40% of those in their 40s and 50s are taking full advantage of matching Registered Retirement Savings Plan or pension money in plans Sun Life administers. On the other hand, 90% of those in their 20s (presumably new employees) are opting in.

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.

Apr 13: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

There were several interesting provincial budgets this week with provisions impacting the cost of health care for seniors.

The Saskatchewan budget removed 6,000 seniors from the province’s drug plan. Previously the threshold of $80,255 was the cutoff for the drug plan. Anyone with a taxable income in excess of that amount was not eligible for the program. Now, the threshold will be lowered to $65,515.

The Alberta budget added a new Health Care Contribution Levy payable through the income tax system that will cost each Albertan up to $1,000 per year. Coverage and eligibility for provincial public health care programs remain unchanged. Unlike the previous Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan premium eliminated after 2008 that was a flat fee for individuals, the Levy has a progressive structure (See Table at p.87). Each member of a family filing an income tax return who has income over $50,000 will be subject to the levy and seniors are not exempt.

On another note, Mr. Money Moustache, a Canadian blogger living in the U.S. was recently profiled in the Globe & Mail. He and his wife retired at age 30. He says A Lifetime of Riches is As Simple As a Few Habits. This means doing less pointless driving around in your car and making fewer visits to restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. He also says alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, TV watching, video game playing, procrastination, unhealthy eating, sedentary living, and unnecessary shopping are other habits that stand between the average person and a truly wealthy life.

On Brighter Life, Sun Life VP Kevin Press presents blogs that will refresh your understanding of employee pension plans and employee benefit plans. He notes that Canadians who do not enjoy employer-sponsored benefit plan membership are at a significant disadvantage because provincial plans provide limited levels of coverage. What’s more, your reimbursements for health and dental claims are not taxable. So you’re almost always better off if your employer sponsors a plan versus paying you a higher salary.

And finally, an interesting post on Our Big Fat Wallet about getting compensated for a flight delay. Dan booked his ticket with Travelocity and he was not notified when the return flight was cancelled. Fortunately, the airline re-booked him several hours later and he received a $100 rebate from Travelocity and $75 from his Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite card that provides coverage of up to $500 per trip for trip delays of four hours or more.

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.

 

Jan 26: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

This week we picked up a series of interesting blogs from both bloggers who have previously appeared in this space and several who are new to us .

I was particularly interested in Four reasons you should still take CPP early from Jim Yih at Retire Happy. In his example comparing twins, one who takes CPP early and one who waits until age 65, he calculates the “break even age” as 74.4. Keeping in mind that the earlier years of retirement are when retirees spend the most, he thinks that money in hand now is better than money received later in life.

Eric Ravenscraft’s blog on Lifehacker suggests that you treat savings like a tax so you do it. In other words, have your savings taken off at source by your financial institution so you don’t get a chance to spend the money on something else first.

The Froogal Student’s guest blog Setting goals like the wealthy on the Canadian Budget Binder recommends that you set goals, plan ahead, have career goals and anticipate failure in an interview. While life is far too complex to predict, he says adversity hits everyone. The difference between success and failure lies in preparation.

What I Learned About Money from My Wife by Barry Choi on Money We Have is intended to make it easier for people in relationships to talk about money. For example, Barry likes to put every expense on a credit card to get the points. However he respects his wife’s decision to spend cash wherever possible because she says this approach helps her to control her spending.

Finally, on Our Big Fat Wallet, Dan discusses the pros and cons of prenuptial agreements. While anticipating a possible future divorce may take the shine off your sparkling new ring, the fact is the divorce rate in Canada is about 40%, so it doesn’t hurt to think about how you would deal with your financial affairs in advance if the marriage doesn’t last forever after.

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.

Nov 24: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Do you typically buy a fistful of gift cards for holiday gifts? Just in time to save you a bundle, Boomer & Echo’s Rob Engen writes about How To Hack Gift Cards For Big Discounts. He suggests buying gift cards with your cash back credit card, the RedFlagDeals forum dedicated to buying and selling gift cards and purchasing discounted gift cards at Costco. Who knew?

On Retire Happy, government benefits expert Doug Runchey explains that Receiving a partial OAS pension affects the amount of GIS a pensioner will receive in two ways:

  1. A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive more GIS than someone receiving a full OAS pension, to make up for their lesser amount of OAS.
  2. A pensioner receiving partial OAS will receive GIS up to a higher income, compared to someone receiving a full OAS pension.

Jonathan Chevreau on Findependence Day Hub profiles a 28 year old Winnipeg-based investor named Saxon Funk who has a firm plan for achieving financial independence through various passive streams of income. But his real play for findependence comes through real estate. He was attracted to real estate when he discovered he could buy properties at 10% down, and he caught the Winnipeg real estate cycle at just the right time.

Do you know How Your Daily Commute Affects Your Finances? Dan Wesley from Our Big Fat Wallet reports that the average time Torontonians spend commuting is 80 minutes – the longest time in the world. In contrast, Saskatchewan Jobs says the average commute time in the province’s two largest cities is only 20 minutes. Another reason to count your blessings!

And if unexpected, frequent required changes to eyeglasses for family members is putting stress on your budget, you may be interested in How I saved over 50% buying eye glasses online, my recent blog on Retirement Redux.

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.

Nov 10: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Just before Halloween, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a limited income- splitting proposal, based on a contentious election promise from the 2011 campaign. The new measure which will be effective for the 2014 tax year allows a parent with children under 18 to transfer $50,000 of taxable income to a spouse in a lower income tax bracket. The maximum benefit is capped at $2,000.

Whether you think this was “a trick” or “a treat” will depend on your tax bracket and whether or not only one of two parents in your family is earning income. Here are what some financial bloggers and columnists have to say about the new provisions.

In How Income Splitting Works, Dan Wesley at “Our Big Fat Wallet” explains existing permissible methods of income-splitting like paying your spouse to work in your business or spousal RRSP contributions. He then concludes by discussing the recently announced new income splitting measures for families.

In The truth about income splitting: We take what we can get, Globe and Mail columnist Rob Carrick writes, “It’s a niche benefit that discriminates against single parents, favours families with one big earner and applies to no more than 15% of households, according to estimates from various think tanks.

Law Professor Katherine Lahey blogs at “Canadians for Tax Fairness.” She writes that income splitting and other announcements to family benefits announced at the same time amount to Huge Tax Cuts for Rich Families

The Canadian Council for Policy Alternatives links to a blog David MacDonald wrote in 2011 when the Harper government first floated the idea of income splitting for families. He sheds light on the The Real Numbers Behind Income Splitting and like Lahey said the impact could be “Robin Hood in reverse,” i.e. taking from the poor to give to the rich.

Richard Welland suggests on his blog Your Estate Matters that The “Family Tax Cut” is not income splitting in spite of media reports. He’s reviewed the amendments and thinks that at most it is “simulated income splitting.” He goes on to explain how the program will work.

And finally, in several earlier blogs, on Retire Happy, the ever popular Jim Yih posted   Income Splitting Strategies in Retirement and Income Splitting Strategies for Families, while acknowledging that opportunities for income splitting in Canada are few and far between.

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

Oct 6: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s October already! How time flies. Here are some interesting posts from some of our favourite, always prolific personal finance bloggers.

On Balance Junkie, Tom Drake discusses options for Banking on Your Mobile Phone. There are smartphone apps to run your business, create a budget, check your bank account and set up mobile payments.

How Behavioural Biases Kept Me From Becoming An Indexer is a confession from Boomer & Echo’s Robb Engen that it’s tough to sell a portfolio of high performing winning dividend stocks – his “babies” that he has nurtured through a five-year bull market. Nevertheless the more he reads about, writes about, and teaches others about investing, the more he is convinced that convinced that passive investing (indexing) is the right approach.

4 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Mutual Fund by Our Big Fat Wallet’s Dan Wesley include how the fund has performed as compared to other funds and the costs of ownership. Like Engen, he concludes that if an actively managed fund can’t beat the index, you’re likely better off with a low-cost index Exchange Traded Fund (ETF).

Whether you are a snowbird planning winter away from Canada’s cold climate or dreaming of a one week all inclusive getaway, take a look at Frequently Never Asked Questions for your Travel Medical Insurance on Bank Nerd. Did you know that in general, an emergency due to a pre-existing condition is not covered?

And finally, on Retire happy, Sarah Milton addresses the question Should New Canadians join a Group RRSP? She agrees that RRSP accounts are intended as a vehicle for retirement savings but says that doesn’t mean they only have value if you plan to retire in Canada.

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.

Dan Wesley knows how to save a buck

By Sheryl Smolkin

14Aug-saveabuck

podcast picture
Click here to listen

Hi,

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

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

A couple of unique things you should know about Dan:

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

Welcome Dan.

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

14Aug-dan

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