Tag Archives: Statistics Canada

What you need to know before you rent an apartment

By Sheryl Smolkin

We’ve written several articles about the ins and outs of home ownership, but in fact Statistics Canada reports that 31% of Canadians rent. And although 82.4% of couple-family households own their dwelling, only 55.6% of lone-parent households have purchased a residence and less than half (48.5%) of non-family households own their own homes.

While at first blush, finding and renting an apartment may not seem particularly complicated, if you’ve ever had a terrible rental experience you probably asked a lot more questions the next time around.  So in order to give renters some food for thought, this week we present the first of a two-part series on “what you always wanted to know about renting an apartment but you were afraid to ask.”

  1. Location, Location, Location:
    A perfect apartment is not perfect if it is miles from work and family and not on a regular transportation route. Also, check to see if there are easily accessible grocery stores, a drugstore, schools and places of worship.
  2. Paying the rent:
    Make sure you can afford the rent. The landlord may have you fill out an application, do a credit check and ask you for references. One rule of thumb is that you should budget 25%-30% of your income for rent. Typically you will have to give a first and last month’s rent when you move in. If you are a student, a parent may have to co-sign the lease.
  3. What the rent covers:
    Ask about any additional charges for utilities or cable TV. Find out if you are entitled to a locker and or/parking or if there is an additional charge. Do you get a guaranteed parking spot? Is it indoors or out? Do the window coverings and the microwave stay with the apartment or go with the current tenant? How much does it cost to use the laundry machines?
  4. Fuzzy and Fido:
    Do you have devoted pets who are members of your family? Don’t take for granted that dogs or cats are allowed. Even if you have a very small, quiet, dog you will have to take him out several times a day and there is always a nosey neighbor who will notify management that you are breaching the lease.
  5. Property inspection:
    Make sure you get to inspect your unit before you sign on the bottom line. Check for leakage, insects and that all the appliances work. Test the faucets, hot water, the shower and the toilets. If you see any damage, take pictures and inform the landlord before you sign the lease. If possible, get it in writing when necessary repairs will be completed.
  6. Building maintenance:
    Is the building clean and in good repair? What condition is your unit in? Is there a superintendent in the building you can easily contact if you suddenly have no hot water or your refrigerator stops working? Ask other tenants about their experience.
  7. Decorating your apartment:
    Can you paint or wallpaper your apartment? Will you have to repaint it “boring beige” before you leave? What if there are holes in the wall from picture hangers? Will your last month’s rent act as a security deposit? In what circumstances can the landlord refuse to return all or part of your security deposit? Can you change the locks or put additional security locks on the door of your unit?
  8. Renter’s insurance:
    These days everybody has computers, tablets, TVs and other very portable electronics. Regardless of how good you think the apartment security is there is always the risk that your apartment will be broken into or your possessions destroyed by fire. Invest in a comprehensive tenant’s insurance package.
  9. Roomies:
    You may need to rent out a room in your apartment to help pay the rent. Does your landlord have to approve the roommate? Does the roommate have to co-sign on the lease? Are you responsible for the full amount of the rent if your roommate packs up and leaves in the middle of the night? Can you list the apartment on Airbnb?
  10. Other misc. questions:
    Can you barbecue on your balcony? Can you store your bike on the balcony? Can you control the heat? How do you let somebody into the building? Are there overhead lights or enough convenient outlets to plug in lamps and other appliances? Is there Wifi in the building? How is the cell phone reception? Where do you dispose of garbage? Is the building noisy? Is there a history of vandalism in the building or the area?

Next week we will talk about the legal rights of landlords and tenants in Saskatchewan.

 

10 questions to ask before your wedding

By Sheryl Smolkin

According to weddingbells 65% of weddings in Canada take place between June and September with 25% of weddings taking place in the month of August. I don’t know the month when the most divorces are granted, but according to 2008 data from Statistics Canada (the last year for which it was reported), the divorce rate has been relatively stable for the last 20 years, fluctuating between 35% and 42%.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of marriage. In November of this year we will celebrate our 40th anniversary. But considering what’s at stake, it’s well worth asking your prospective spouse a few important questions before you say, “I do,” so you don’t have to unravel the whole thing a few years later when you realize what you really meant was, “I don’t.”

Here are 10 things I thought of. No doubt you can think of others:

  1. Religion: How important is religion to each of you? If you are of different religions will one of you convert? If you have children, in which faith will you bring them up?
  2. Children: Do both of you want children? How many? How soon? If you cannot have children together is it a deal breaker? Would you consider adoption if all else fails?
  3. Childcare: Did one of your parents stay at home to care for you and your siblings? Do you believe there should be one stay at home parent in each family? If so, which one?
  4. Abortion: Legally a woman gets to make the decision if she is going to terminate a pregnancy. She may make this decision in a variety of difficult circumstances including personal health problems, lack of viability of the child or if she was a victim of rape. Do both parties share the same personal and/or religious views about abortion?
  5. Debt: There is nothing that can take the shine off a relationship faster than finding out later rather than sooner that one or both partners have significant credit card, student loan or other consumer debt. Be completely open about the state of both of your finances and consider how to get them in order before you walk down the aisle.
  6. Money management: How will you pay the family bills? Will each of you contribute the same amount monthly or pro-rate expenses based on income levels? Will you consolidate your finances or maintain different bank accounts? Who will be responsible for managing and reconciling accounts on a regular basis?
  7. Pre-nup: Is one of you older or more affluent? Have one or both of you been married before? Is one of you part owner of a family business? In these circumstances your prospective spouse may ask you to sign a pre-nuptial agreement giving up some of your rights on divorce. If so, be realistic and get independent legal advice before you agree.
  8. City vs. country: Where will you live? Are you willing to trade off a smaller apartment in the city for a detached house in the suburbs and a daily two-hour commute? Is living in a rural area on a huge lot a priority or is it important to you to be part of an urban community?
  9. Household chores: Are both of you neat freaks or is one of you a slob? Who is going to do what in the home and how often? If both of you are working are you open to hiring someone to do regular house cleaning for you?
  10. Resolving conflict: Can you discuss your feelings openly? Every couple has disagreements. How will you handle yours? Are you willing to consider counseling if problems arise the two if you can’t handle easily?

Relationships are dynamic and the discussions you have before the big day are not cast in stone. But if you build your life together based on open communication and shared values, chances are greater that when you encounter inevitable roadblocks down the road you will find a way to work together to overcome these obstacles.

 

Loyalty programs: Which one is best?

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Canadians love loyalty programs. The 2013 Loyalty Census from the industry research group Colloquy reports that 120 million consumers in this country belong to at least one loyalty program and the average number of loyalty programs per household is 8.2. But the challenge you face is selecting the loyalty programs that will give you the best bang for their bucks.

Typically websites that evaluate loyalty programs either rank programs based on the stated preferences of survey participants or by weighting various features like points per dollar spent and the value you can get when you spend the points in different ways.

But the research company Environics recently developed a “time to reward” algorithm for Colloquy that ups the ante by predicting how many months it actually takes to earn $100 CAD in rewards.

The calculation not only takes into consideration the potential payback from a program, but factors like usage patterns, the ability to double-dip (i.e. get points for the dollar value of your travel purchase plus the number of miles you fly) and how much you buy from a particular retailer.

Initially, over 1000 Canadians surveyed online in March 2014 by Environics were asked to select which of 23 top loyalty programs (14 of which have a non-credit loyalty card only) they used to collect loyalty rewards or dollars in the past three months. The programs in the list had membership of at least one per cent of the Canadian population and multiple programs could be picked from the list provided.

The top 10 selected were:

  • 72%: Air Miles
  • 35%: Shopper’s Optimum
  • 29%: Canadian Tire Money
  • 28%: Aeroplan
  • 28%: PC Points
  • 23%: Petro-Points
  • 17%: Scene Rewards
  • 17%: HBC Rewards
  • 13%: Club Sobey
  • 12%: Sears Card

However, once all 23 programs were assessed by Environics applying “time to rewards” metrics, rankings in some categories changed. Not surprisingly, the Air Miles and Aeroplan programs took the first and second spots for long and short haul flight rewards. Both are “coalition” loyalty programs (members can earn points through hundreds of retail partners, as opposed to just one).

But Aeroplan dropped to the number three spot after the Shoppers Optimum card when it came to how quickly cash equivalent rewards can accumulate. The Shoppers Drug Mart program regularly runs promotions where a large number of points is awarded for spending specified amounts on certain days.

The research also revealed the credit cards that will get a program member to a cash equivalent or merchandise reward the quickest tend to be retailer-specific or bank-issued credit cards. The Canadian Tire Cash Advantage MasterCard, the Best Buy Reward Zone Visa and the RBC Shoppers Optimum Card ranked 1, 2 and 3 in this category.

The Environics Research contains many more “time to reward” comparisons for loyalty programs and loyalty credit cards you can check out here. There is also an interactive online tool where you can test which Canadian loyalty programs will get you to your desired reward faster (i.e. travel rewards, cash or merchandise) using either your own spending pattern or pre-programmed Statistics Canada data.

Of course your favourite loyalty program may not have sufficient market penetration to even have been considered in the Environics study.

When I polled several prominent personal finance bloggers to find out the loyalty programs they use the most, Tom Drake (Canadian Finance) said his number one choice is a Costco Executive Membership, which is notably absent from the Environics study. It pays back two per cent of most purchases throughout the year in cash. “I also pay using my True Earnings Card from Costco and American Express which gives me another one per cent cash back or two per cent when I fill up with gas,” he says.

Robb Engen (Boomer & Echo) identified Scene Rewards which allows you to earn points that can be spent on free movies, concession food and music downloads as probably one of the most under-rated loyalty programs in the country. He also subscribes to Amazon Prime for $79/year because it gives him free two-day shipping on most items that Amazon carries.

And even though he is an avid Air Miles fan, Jim Yee (Retire Happy) believes it’s important to take a balanced approach to racking up points vs other important cost-saving considerations. “Safeway gives Air Miles but sometimes it’s more convenient or less expensive to shop elsewhere for groceries,” he says.

Financing Post-Secondary Education: It’s a family affair

By Sheryl Smolkin

21Aug-packingforcollege

Before your child heads off to university or college this year, you need to have a frank discussion about how much it will cost and how much you can afford to contribute to his or her tuition and living costs.

If you opened a registered educational savings plan (RESP) when Janice or Jasper was much younger, that nest egg will be a big help. Some young people have also had summer or part-time jobs for many years and have a healthy balance in their savings account.

But with the escalating costs of post-secondary education, chances are that most students will be looking to “the Bank of Mom and Dad” for some assistance, even if that only means living rent free while going to school in their home city.

According to the D+H Student Index survey of 752 Canadian high-school and post-secondary students, when talking to their parents about the cost of school, one in three students say the conversation revealed a gap between the cost of post-secondary education and the financial support their parents could offer. Students only realized the need to line up other sources of financing after having these family conversations.

Fortunately, it’s not taboo for Canadian families to talk about money. Four in five students (80%) say they don’t have any difficulty talking to their parents about money. For the majority of students (55%), the family discussion on how to finance post-secondary education happens in grade 11 or 12.

Reflecting on these conversations, Canadian students say if they could do it again, they would go in with a more realistic idea of the cost of post-secondary education (36%) and have the conversation earlier (26%).

According to Statistics Canada, on average, undergraduate students paid $5,772 in tuition fees in 2013-2014. Over four years, that is more than $20,000 for tuition, before considering other expenses such as books and additional academic fees or any living expenses.

Canadian students usually line up a variety of sources to cover the cost. The top five sources of funding are:

  • 43%: Parents are paying
  • 43%: Student savings
  • 41%: Government federal and/or provincial loans
  • 41%: Summer jobs
  • 39%: Scholarship money or grants

When parents offered financial support over 1/3 of students said the support was unconditional. However in some cases students were required to get good grades (41%); work in the summer (39%); and/or work part-time during the school year (19%)

Three-quarters of students who took out student loans say they could not afford post-secondary education without one. Nine in ten (89%) say the loans helped them pursue their education and career goals.

A recent CBC article reports that Canadians graduate with an average student debt load of $25,000. But for many others the amount is much higher, particularly if they study for professions like law, medicine or engineering.

High debt loads are not only a financial stress but can delay the time it takes individuals or couples to reach certain milestones, such as having children, getting married or owning property.

Therefore, the sooner parents and children talk about and begin saving for post-secondary education, the better. To the extent possible, students should also be encouraged to select a field of study leading to jobs where there is a healthy demand for new graduates.