Tag Archives: personal finance

Feb 1: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

In this space we typically provide links to interesting work by our favourite personal finance writers about topics ranging from money-saving tips to retirement savings to retirement lifestyle. But many of these prolific bloggers have also posted great videos on YouTube with helpful tips and tricks for people looking for ways to better manage their money.

So keeping in mind the old adage that “a picture can be worth a thousand words,” this week we identify a series of videos featuring pundits you already know well. While some of these videos are not new, they have stood the test of time.

Take a minute to watch at least a few of them, and let us know whether you would like to see more video content on savewithspp.com.

Sean Cooper is a pension administrator by day and a hard-working personal finance writer by night. Watch him burn the mortgage he paid off in 3 years and reveal his super saver secrets.

One of a kind blogs like How to get married for $239 by Kerry K. Taylor, aka Squawkfox have have been read by thousands of eager fans. In this video she discusses with the Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick, How to stop wasting money.

In Life After Financial Independence as part of his Tea At Taxevity series, actuary Promod Sharma interviews author and former MoneySense editor Jonathan Chevreau about his post-retirement projects, including the Financial Independence Hub.

TV personality and personal finance guru Gail Vaz-Oxlade is interviewed on Toronto Speaks: Personal Finance about spending beyond your budget.

Studies suggest that 6 out of 10 Canadians do not have a retirement plan. Why is that number so high? Retire Happy’s Jim Yih shares a couple of theories about why it’s hard to plan for retirement.

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

podcast picture
Click here to listen


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.

Squawkfox takes the country by storm

By Sheryl Smolkin

Squawkfox aka Kerry K. Taylor on Parliament Hill
Squawkfox aka Kerry K. Taylor on Parliament Hill
podcast picture
Click here to listen

Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithSPP.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox is one of my perennial favorites.

Kerry started blogging in 2008 and has since been voted Canada’s Number One Money Blogger by the Globe and Mail.  She also wrote a book called “397 Ways to Save Money.” In Kerry’s own words, “Squawkfox explores frugal living topics that are sexy, delicious, and fun.”

Thank you for joining me today, Kerry.

Thanks so much, Sheryl. It’s a pleasure talking to you.

Q. How did you end up writing a personal finance blog?

A. I grew up in a very thrifty family. When I started my first job in an IT firm a lot of the engineers I was working with were just blowing through their paychecks.

Meanwhile, I was riding my bicycle to work and bringing my own lunch. They wanted to know how I managed to max out my RRSP every year. So I started creating little emails about how biking was great for your butt and good for your bank account. I also wrote about really earthy, fun things like how soaking dried beans could change your life.

They loved it and repeatedly forwarded my emails. My email list became so big that the engineers said I should have a blog so they could check it regularly and comment.  So I started the blog and my audience kept growing.

At some point I was just overwhelmed with how many readers I was getting.  And then I was voted Canada’s Top Money Blogger at the Globe and Mail and HarperCollins offered me a book deal.

Q: So who is your audience?

A. That’s a great question. I’m always overwhelmed when I see who is emailing me and commenting on my Facebook page or my Twitter posts. And it’s really people of all ages. Internet savvy seniors email me and say, “I wish my daughter or my son were more thrifty like you,” and then they forward my posts to them. I have college students who read my site because I write a lot about my student debt days.

Q: How frequently do you post? 

A: I don’t really keep a posting schedule and I think that surprises a lot of bloggers. However, the average length of my blogs is probably anywhere from 1600 words to 2100 words. And I usually include a lot of photographs or descriptions and an infographic to explain my frugal approach. So I generally aim for a few posts a month.

But, you know, if I don’t really have anything I think is worth saying to a large group of people, I just don’t say it. Because I don’t want to bug people I want to make sure I only put my really good stuff out there.  And it seems to have worked for me so far.

Q: Tell me about the range of topics you’ve blogged about. 

A: Well, anything from cutting your costs on groceries, to the cost of childcare, to the cost of raising kids. It’s really varied. I think money can touch every aspect of your life if you open your eyes and you see it.

For example, I was in a Starbucks a couple of years ago, and people were buying frappuccinos and I thought, what are they made of? I can probably make that at home. And, sure enough, I made a $4 tall frappuccino for something like 32 cents. That was a post idea right there that just happened by keeping my eyes open.

Sometimes it’s a career post; sometimes it’s a food post; sometimes it’s a tough love post. I wrote one about the real reason you have no money.  I did that kind of tough love thing because I was tired of people emailing me that they’re broke. And I said, “Well, then, do something about it.”

Q: So, how many hits does your blog typically get?

A: It depends. I’ve been on the front pages of Yahoo. I get a lot of social sharing on Facebook. I don’t usually give out the number but I’m not a teeny, tiny blog. I’m currently probably one of the higher traffic personal finance blogs on the internet.

Q: Tell me about some of your more popular blogs.

A: Well, the frappuccino one was unusually popular with readers. Anytime I knock off a product and make it cost less, it really strikes a nerve.

I wrote an article in my first year of blogging, called “Six Words That Make Your Resume Suck,” and that’s been hugely popular with people because it’s got a strong voice and a sense of humour.

People also love the tough love stuff when I kind of dish it out because I’m mean, but I’m kind of a friendly mean.  I think one popular blog that really surprised me was “how keeping your fridge well stocked and clean can really cut your costs.”

Q: What about your wedding blog?

A: Oh, my wedding blog. How to get married for 239 bucks. It was insanely popular.

I basically started with the premise, what do you need to get married? You need a marriage license and the services of a commissioner of sorts. Add those two together and it costs under 250 bucks.

So anything over that cost is really adding to your wedding expenses needlessly because the bubble machine and the horse-drawn carriage aren’t going to do diddly to get you hitched. Then I explained how I bought my wedding dress at a huge discount on eBay. I think I spend a hundred bucks on it.

I called around to see how much wedding cakes cost and discovered that as soon as you say the wedding word, you’re paying the marriage mark-up. I think my post about how I had a very frugal wedding really hit a note with people because rather than blow all that cash on one day, I saved it and bought a house. People either loved or loathed it, so it was a fun post to share.

Q: So you previously lived in rural B.C. Where exactly were you located?

A: I was in an area called Vernon, British Columbia and I lived on an organic farm with my husband’s family. We moved just recently to Toronto. I’m from Mississauga, and I wanted to come back home to live in the big city again.

Q: I understand you and your husband decided that Carl would be the primary, weekday caregiver for your daughter Chloe. Why was that decision made and how is it working out?

A: Both my husband and I work full time but for the first year when Chloe was home, Carl went on parental leave because he qualified for it at work. Because I’m self-employed, I don’t qualify, so we looked at the budget, we looked at the benefits he got at work, and we just decided that one of us is going to stay home with the baby and why not Carl? He loved it and it turned out he was the first guy in his office to take parental leave and after he did this, two other fellas from his office did the same thing.

Q: So what are some of the spin-offs from blogging? How has it changed your life?

A: Well, I never knew I had a voice that people connected to and I think that was a really big surprise for me. As a result of the blog I was asked to write books for a big publisher, which I really enjoyed.

I love talking about money in a really down-to-earth style that is very accessible to people. And I think it’s just fun to put up a post that is so different from what everyone else writes, because I kind of look at things sideways and try to be a little sassy about saving money.

Q. So how long do you think it will go on? Do you ever run out of ideas?

A: No. I have a book that’s so full of ideas it makes my head spin. It’s just a matter of finding the time to write. Ever since we became parents, writing has been really tough in the evenings and on the weekends.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for readers who want to better manage their finances so they can meet their financial objectives including a well-funded retirement, what would you say?

A: Well, I think a lot of people say focus on the small stuff, but I say you should focus on the big stuff!

Look at where you live, how much house you own, and how much house you owe to the bank. How much rent do you pay a month? All these really big decisions add up to a lot of money. The car you drive, or the car you don’t drive, that’s a lot of money as well.

We need to be more careful about these really big decisions because a couple of hundred extra bucks a month off your rent or your mortgage means that you can put that money into your RRSP or tax-free savings account. That’s real money you can retire on later.

Thanks Kerry.

It was my pleasure 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 Kerry K. Taylor on Squawkfox, you can find it here and sign up  to receive an email each time a new blog is posted.

If you do sign up, Kerry will send you a free ninety-two page e-book, called ‘Frugal Food and Fitness.’

Talking to personal finance blogger Tim Stobbs

By Sheryl Smolkin

Tim Stobbs and his sons on their cross-Canada trip
Tim Stobbs and his sons on their cross-Canada trip

With this post, we are kicking off a 2014 series of interviews with personal finance bloggers. Many of the people we will be talking to are known to you already because we’ve linked to their blogs on our weekly edition of “Best from The Blogosphere.”

Our first guest is Tim Stobbs, a thirty-five-year old chemical engineer and father of two who lives in Regina and works for SaskPower. He was also a Regina School Trustee until the end of 2012.

Since 2006 Tim has blogged on Canadian Dream: Free at 45. He has also authored a book called Free at 45: How to Retire Early and Happy. In addition, in his spare time, he wrote a series of articles for the Toronto Star and has been interviewed by virtually every media outlet in the country.

Thanks for joining me today, Tim.

Thanks for inviting me Sheryl.

Q. You’re one busy guy. When do you find time to sleep?

A. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I regularly get about eight hours of sleep. My young children go to bed early so I still have a couple hours every night to work on personal projects.

Q. So how old were you when you decided to aim for early, early retirement at 45?

A. I first came across the idea of early retirement back in my early 20s about 2001. But I really didn’t do much of anything with it until several years later in about 2005 when I did a series of online calculations and realized that I might actually be able to retired at 45. So I took that idea and started to blog with it.

Q. What response have you had to the blog? How many hits do you get?

A. Each blog post gets maybe about 600 or 700 hits. It works out to about 20,000 page views per month or so, give or take. It’s been an odd experience because I’ve had a lot of interest from various media outlets. I did a bunch of radio interviews.

The Toronto Star contacted me and asked me to write a series for them. One opportunity that was really out-of-this world was when CBC, The National, contacted me for a story on early retirement.

Q. I can understand that would be quite cool. So what blogs have resulted in the highest number of clicks or the greatest interest?

A:  I think the highest amount of interest I’ve seen on my blog has been in regards to the early retirement calculation series. About every couple years or so, I’ll dust it off and re-do the calculations just to keep them updated. People question my assumptions and share the basis of their own calculations with me.

Q. So that’s your own calculations, as your projections evolve towards your own retirement?

A. Yes. Realistically everyone can make assumptions, but inevitably life happens and things kind of veer off a little bit. So you’ve got to go back and correct them periodically.

Q. So how much do you and your wife figure you need to pay your bills after taxes?

A. Well, we kind of did an odd thing with our retirement planning. We actually aimed for a very barebones kind of basic spending level of $27,000 a year and then we figured we’d probably, for incidental income and other things,  that we would pull in another $5,000  for more fun stuff.

Q. What lump sum savings do you think it will take to support your lifestyle once you retire?

A. A grand total of about 1.1 million net worth, but the majority of that is going to be investments. So about $700,000 in investments, I figured would probably pull that off.

Q. Is the rest the value in your house?

A. Yes, the rest would be the equity in the house.

Q.I see that your mortgage is paid off and you figure you’ll be able to retire at age 42 now. The numbers dropped again?

A. Yes.

Q. How did you do it? What did you give up in order to meet this objective?

A. Everyone is always asking that but I’ve never actually sacrificed anything. I could have decided to spend more money or do other things. But instead, I kind of ended up doing a little exercise and went through my life and my spending and went, “What things do I really not care about?”

Like, my power bill, I really, really don’t get excited paying off my power bill every month. So what I decided to do was to see, “How low can I make that?” So I looked at ways to save energy around the house and dropped that bill down and repeated that across all of my various bills.

As a result, what I managed to do was really customize my spending to be heavily tailored toward my particular interests. So I’ll spend money on books or DVDs that I like, but I don’t spend a lot of money on gas or power bills.

Q. I presume your wife is on board with the program?

A. She is, but in a different context than me. I’m more driven by the freedom to do what I’m interested in. She’s more about the whole concept of security. For example, we had a car accident last week and she knows without any doubt that we’ll have the money for the deductible for the car. So, she just loves that as a result of our financial plan that we are financially secure.

Q. Do you still go on vacations, go out to restaurants and upgrade your phone every now and then?

A. Oh yes, we still do all that stuff. Like, for example, this summer, my sister-in-law moved out to Newfoundland. We decided to go out there for a visit. So we took a month long vacation and spent over seven and a half thousand dollars. We drove all the way out and back. Seven provinces with two little boys in the back seat, but we survived.

Q. So what does retirement mean to you? How do you plan to spend your time once you don’t have to go to work?

A. Well, as I talked about earlier, we aimed for bare bones because I really think I’m retiring too early to stop working entirely. It’s just nice to be able to work on what interests me rather than what pays me most. Right now, I’m doing engineering because, well, it’s my degree and I’m quite good at it. As an engineer I also make quite a bit of money. However I enjoy writing a lot. But unfortunately, unless you’re really good at writing, it’s pretty hard to earn as much as I do as an engineer.

Q. Are you saying that might at some stage leave your engineering job and take a chance at working on something else?

A. Yes. I’ll probably switch over to just writing novels or non-fiction projects, stuff where I don’t have to worry about a profit margin, as long as I do it because I’m interested in it.

Q. Your wife currently operates a home daycare. I understand she has some ideas about what she’d like to do when you are more financially secure.

A.  She kind of has her hobbies she enjoys and is looking forward to expending those a little bit or even maybe going back to school and learning a bit more about a few other topics that interest her rather than having to go get a degree because it’s something economically viable to do.

Q. If you had one piece of advice for readers who want to manage their finances so they can retire early, what would it be?

A. I think the biggest piece of advice I’d offer people is don’t worry about what everyone else is doing about spending. Look at your own spending habits and kind of customize your budget . It’s really possible to live on a lot less than people think if you’re not so caught up in doing what everyone else is doing.

So if you don’t really care about the newest phone, don’t drop the money every three years to get it. It’s sort of as simple as that in some regards. By minimizing your spending on stuff you don’t care about, you’ll have more spending money for future things like retirement or even just things that interest you more.


You can follow Tim’s progress on his blog and also read interesting posts from several regular guest bloggers.

This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on November 25th.