Tag Archives: Toronto Star

May 2: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

My husband and I helped our daughter buy her first house and a few years ago we bought my son a car. We also partially paid for their education so they were able to graduate debt free. I consider these gifts as an excellent investment because we could afford it and it was our pleasure to share our good fortune with them when they needed it most.

So when I came across Sean Cooper’s blog Why Millennials Should Save Their Down Payment and Not Rely on the Bank of Mom and Dad, I figured I’d better find out what he has to say. Sean believes that parents who cough up all or part of the down payment for a house are generally hurting their offspring instead of helping them. “By showing your millennial child tough love, you’re teaching your kids a valuable lesson: not everything in life is handed to you in a silver platter,” he says.

In an excerpt from his book The Bank of Mom and Dad: Money, Parents, and Grown Children published in the Globe and Mail last year, Derrick Penner says the first question the family should explore is whether the timing is right. For young adults just setting out on a new career, it might be more logical to rent (assuming they’ll also be able to save some money) and kick-start an investment plan that would lead to home ownership later than to buy real estate before they’re really ready.

But if you do decide to give cash to your kids for a down payment, How to help your kids buy a home by Michele Lerner on Bankrate.com has some great tips. First and foremost, she says make sure your own retirement needs are adequately funded before you part with a large lump sum. Also, if you co-sign on a mortgage or loan, understand that you will be liable if your child defaults, so make sure in a worst case scenario you can also afford to make the mortgage payments.

Help your child buy his/her first home, a post on GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca says if you do decide to go ahead, there are three common options: loan your child the money; co-sign your child’s mortgage; or pay some or all of the costs as a gift. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of each option, and how your tax situation and financial plan could be affected.

And finally, an article last year by Adam Mayers in the Toronto Star correctly notes that Emotions can run high when helping the kids buy a house. He says that if family-financing is in the home-buying cards for the younger generation, some issues to consider are: securing any loan via promissory note or against title; the pros and cons of joint ownership; and, how to get your money back. In a mini-poll in the article 68% of those who voted said they would be willing help their kids with a down payment for a home.

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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 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.

Dec 14: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

I’ve been thinking about the cost of health and long term care a lot lately because my 88- year old Mom recently had a bad fall and cracked five ribs. She is recovering at home but she is in a lot of pain, and requires 24/7 care for the foreseeable future.

The plan has always been to keep her in her own apartment as long as possible. Fortunately her wonderful, privately-paid caregiver (a registered practical nurse) who normally works 40 hours/week has virtually moved in and is helping us to take excellent care of her. But as costs mount up over the short run, we are beginning to wonder if this will be a luxury she soon can’t afford.

Access to public resources varies across the country, but in Thornhill, Ontario where she lives , I’ve been told that a maximum of one hour a day (and most probably only two hours a week) will be offered to her on the government dime. But I’m grateful that 22 in-house physiotherapy sessions to get her up and moving better and train her to avoid future falls have been approved.

So if health and long-term care are not in your retirement planning radar yet, I have put together a few recent articles that may get you thinking about what you can expect.

On Retire Happy, Donna McCaw writes about Your Health in Retirement: Asking for Help. She cites staggering statistics from the Vancouver based Canadian Men’s Health Foundation about men and heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, alcohol-related deaths as well as suicide. She interviewed recently-retired men who made it their first priority to get healthy and get rid of their “ring around the waist” by embracing fitness and learning to eat healthy.

Life after retirement: Health care costs require careful planning in the Financial Post is by Audrey Miller, the Managing Director of  http://www.eldercaring.ca/. She cites home care costs by the week and by the year (albeit in Ontario) and says as family members and professionals, we need to be better prepared. The cost of care is only going to become more expensive, especially as our public and private resources are reduced. Not only will we soon have more seniors than young people under 15, but our pool of those who are willing to be paid to do this work will also become smaller.

The coming health benefits shock for retirees by Adam Mayers at the Toronto Star reminds us that contrary to what many people believe, glasses, drugs and nursing homes will not in most cases be paid for by our universal health care. He quotes Kevin Dougherty, president of Sun Life Financial Canada who says one reason for the disconnect may be that we form an opinion of the health system through our use of it. Most of us are covered by workplace health plans and we don’t need much from these plans during our earlier years, and into middle age what we do need is covered.

Navigating Retirement healthcare is a comprehensive report from CIBC Wood Gundy discussing health care cost considerations in retirement. The study notes that long-term care is classified as an extended healthcare service under the Canada Health Act but the role of publicly-funded LTC facilities is changing as provincial governments limit the expansion of these facilities by reducing the number of registered nurses, maintaining or decreasing the number of available beds, and tightening the qualifications for acceptance into a facility.

Even if these policies were reversed, an individual’s current wait time of one year will likely increase unless significant expansion of the LTC provision occurs. The result is that a greater number of seniors are paying to enter more expensive for-profit private or semi-private facilities that can cost up to $7,000 or more a month.

Finally, Long-term care costs in Saskatchewan 2014 by Sun Life discusses how residential facilities, retirement homes/residences, government-subsidized home care, adult day care and private home care operate. Government subsidized options including home care are administered by the Regional Health Authority (RHA). As RHA resources are limited, many seniors don’t get the care they need from RHA services and have to rely on private home care services. The provincial tariff for skilled nursing ranges from $42-$70/hour while 24 hour live-in care can cost from $21-30/hr.

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 16: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Most of the time when I sit down at my computer to write the weekly Best from the Blogosphere post I have absolutely no idea what the theme will be until I read a few articles from other bloggers that send me off on a tangent.

Such was the case this week when the first message in my inbox was from Robb Engen at Boomer and Echo writing about Mischief Managed: How I Went From Credit Card Abuser To Rewards Card Master. He says optimizing credit spending means using one card for groceries and gas, one for dining and entertainment, one for travel and one for everything else. Last year he used six credit cards to earn over $1,500 worth of rewards.

In 2012 Carla Wintersgill wrote in the Toronto Star about How travel hackers maximize loyalty points. She reports on the inventive way American author Chris Guillebeau collected points through the United States Mint. For a year and a half, it was possible to buy U.S. dollar coins directly from the Mint, which included free shipping. Over the course of a few months, he bought $70,000 in coins using a points-collecting credit card and then re-deposited the coins in the bank to pay his bill.

With Black Friday and Christmas on the horizon, reader may be interested in the Top 5 tips for maximizing miles on your holiday shopping by Patrick Sojka at Rewards Canada. He suggests double or triple dipping to rack up your points faster. This basically involves your mileage earning credit card being used for a purchase where you also earn miles in the same program as the credit card. For example, pay for your Air Canada flight with a TD Aeroplan Visa or American express.

When you use travel rewards, at some point you may be juggling way more credit cards than the average consumer. Even with a really good system to ensure that you have paid your cards in full each month, at some point something may slip through the cracks. On Frugal Travel Guy, Caroline Lupini explains How to Get Credit Card Late Fees Refunded and Interest Charges Reversed at least once, but it is important not to make a habit of missing payments.

In a guest post on the Canadian Finance Blog, How to Get the Best Value from Air Miles Rewards, Retire Happy blogger Jim Yih explains how he exchanged 15,850 Air Miles for six flights from Edmonton to Ottawa that saved him $2475.99. He calculates that he is getting about one Air Mile for every dollar spent and his equivalent cash back is about 1.67% over the longer time frame. He also endorses double-dipping and believes that with a little more conscious effort and awareness he can get the reward up to a 2% cash back equivalent.

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 12: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

I recently returned from travelling in Europe to glorious fall colours, shorter days and a chill in the air. Although we saw beautiful things in wonderful places, as we landed I couldn’t help thinking that we have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, right here at home.

Whoever is elected as the next Prime Minister, Canadians will continue to enjoy considerable peace and prosperity. There are poverty and income inequality issues we definitely need to address, but unlike refugees from war-torn countries, most of us have a roof over our head and food on the table.

Here are a few interesting blogs and media stories that appeared in my absence you may find informative when you’ve had enough turkey and pumpkin pie.

If you have been putting off joining SPP or increasing your RRSP contributions, take a look at Create a Money Machine: The Effect of Compounding by Billy Kadeli from RetireEarly.com on the Financial Independence Hub. He tells young people how they can create their own “personal money machine” by investing early and taking advantage of compounding.

Blonde on a Budget’s Cait Flanders suggests you can Choose Your Own Financial Adventure. When faced with financial options at a key milestone or crossroads in your life, pick the smarter choice to protect your financial future instead of ending up in debt or even bankrupt.

In July, Sean Cooper wrote Take Car Insurance into Consideration When Buying Vehicles. Car insurance costs vary depending on the type of vehicle you choose. Before test driving vehicles and falling in love with one, he recommends that you get car insurance quotes for each model. By making car insurance part of your new car decision, it will give you a clearer idea about the total cost of ownership.

And on the election front….

Adam Mayers at the Toronto Star writes that Your Vote Gets a Better CPP or a bigger TFSA, but not both. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his Conservatives support a $10,000 TFSA limit. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau do not. But the quid pro quo is that the parties vying to defeat Harper agree on an expanded CPP.

If you or a family member have student debt, you will be interested to know that Liberal platform includes student debt relief. If elected, Trudeau would increase the Canada Student Grant for low-income students by 50% to $3,000 a year for full-time students and $1,800 for part-time students. As well, graduates would be required to start paying their debts only after they’re earning at least $25,000 a year.

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.

Sept 14: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Over the last weeks the stock markets have been bouncing all over the place and now we are told that the Canadian economy is officially in recession. While it is natural to be concerned, particularly if you are close to retirement, the general consensus from most experts is to have confidence in your financial plan and stay the course. Today, and in coming weeks we will provide you with information to help you weather the storm.

In How to make sense of markets gone mad, Toronto Star personal finance writer Adam Mayers says this is a market correction of significant proportions. It could be short and sharp, or it may be long and lingering depending on how the real economy reacts. It may be tough to take the gyrations, but what it does do is set the stage for the next big rise.

Rob Carrick at the Globe and Mail says It’s decision time for your ‘dead’ money. If the summer market decline hasn’t stoked your appetite to buy stocks, he suggests that all the cash piling in your account is pretty much dead money. That’s true if you’re leaving the money uninvested, and also if you’ve taken the good sense step of keeping your cash in a high interest investment account.

MoneySense authors Jessica Bruno and Dean DiSpalatro consider What the recession means for your portfolio. They interviewed Jay Nash, portfolio manager at Roberts Nash Advisory Group, National Bank Financial, in London, Ontario. Nash’s message to clients is straightforward: The recession was largely focused in the energy sector, with other areas of the economy performing well. Most importantly, June’s solid data—pushed along by consumer spending—was better than expected.

Protecting your retirement income from the stock market by Wayne Rothe is on Retire Happy. Rothe reviews “Your Retirement Income Blueprint,” by Winnipeg financial advisor Daryl Diamond. Diamond writes about the impact of market gyrations on the “retirement risk zone.” This is generally the five years immediately before and after retirement age. A big drop in the value of your investments during this period can be disastrous.

And finally, Michael James on Money questions How Much Diversification Do You Need? He says, “Diversification is simple for indexers like me. We own all stocks for as low a cost as possible. There is no such thing as ‘di-worse-ification’ because we have no opinions about one stock being better than others. There is no reason to fret over active mutual funds because index funds are cheaper and cover the same asset classes.”

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.

Should you pay your tuition with Aeroplan points?

By Sheryl Smolkin

If you know someone heading off to University of Regina, Saskatchewan Polytechnic (or several other participating Canadian universities and colleges) you may be interested to know that Aeroplan points can now be used to pay their tuition. Ontario and Alberta students can also use Aeroplan points to pay down student loans. The service is operated online by HigherEDPoints.com.

When I initially read about this option in the Toronto Star my first reaction was that no students I know can afford to travel frequently enough to rack up a slew of airline points. But after reading further, I discovered that grandparents, parents and other generous benefactors can also convert points into cash and direct the money to the student of their choice so I was curious enough to find out more about how the program works.

Aeroplan’s Beyond Miles Charitable Pooling Program also allows students and institutions to “crowd-source” donations of Aeroplan Miles by setting up a Pooling Account for individuals in need. Each Charitable Pooling account will be able to run a Contribution Campaign once a year.

A campaign runs for a duration of 30 days and allows the charity to set a specific mileage goal. If the charity reaches 90% of their targeted goal through donations within the 30 day period, Aeroplan will contribute by donating 10% to ensure the goal is met.

The HigherEd.com site even includes a draft email for students who would like to solicit Aeroplan points from friends and family to help pay their school expenses. One plus seems to be there is no charge to donate points, whereas if you simply want to transfer Aeroplan points between accounts there is a charge of $.02 per mile.

But at an exchange rate of 35,000 Aeroplan points for $250, a student will need an awful lot of points to make a dent in annual tuition of $5,000 or an accumulated student loan of $35,000 or more. Furthermore, when you do the math, it becomes apparent that it makes more sense to give your child, grandchild or community member a cheque.

That’s because spending 35,000 Aeroplan points for a credit of only $250 (which works out to a reward of only .007 or 7/10 of a cent per mile) is not the best way to get good value for your hard-earned loyalty points.

Calculations on Flightfox, illustrate that depending on the cost of the ticket and the distance you are traveling, you can realize anything from 1.4 cents per mile on cheap round–trip flights within Canada and the Continental U.S.A. to 1.84 cents per mile on an international economy flight. Pricey international business class flights that cost over $6,000 (or 135,000 Aeroplan) miles can result in a return on your investment of about 4.53 cents per mile.

According to Suzanne Tyson, founder of Higher Ed Points who was quoted in the Toronto Star article, already some $120,000 in tuition and student loan offsets have been converted through this plan. She also notes that one Toronto employer cashed in his Aeroplan points and put them toward summer course tuition for three students.

Aug 31: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Tomorrow will be September and that means it won’t be long before you are thrown back into the maelstrom of activity that signifies the beginning of the business and academic year. So this week we continue with our back to basics theme, and bring you excerpts from some of our favourite personal finance writers and bloggers.

I really like The Sabbatical as a Dress Rehearsal for Retirement on the Financial Independence Hub by Adrian Mastracci. My husband retired when a four month sabbatical was refused but fully intends to seek contract work again in the fall.

I’m Not an Entitled Millennial Because I Can’t Afford to Buy a House in the City I Live In by Jessica Moorehous on Mo’ Money Mo’ houses explains why she and her husband decided to rent indefinitely when they couldn’t buy even a small home in Toronto for $500,000 with 20% down.

Mr. Money Moustache asks What if Everyone Became Frugal?. He concludes that it is savers and investors and not consumers that are the engine of economic growth. Only by sacrificing current consumption, can people put money into banks or share offerings, which end up in the hands of new and existing businesses allowing them to increase their productivity. Capital creates productivity, and productivity is the driver of our standard of living.

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pre-election announcement that if elected he will raise the tax-free amount you can withdraw from your registered retirement savings plan to buy a first home to $35,000, Rob Carrick’s column Don’t buy a house at the expense of your RRSP is very timely.

And finally, To owe or not to owe, not such a simple question says Adam Mayers in the Toronto Star. Conventional wisdom has it that you shouldn’t owe anybody anything when you retire because your ability to pay it off is diminished. But as with most things to do with personal finance, he says one size doesn’t fit all. In some cases, it could make sense to pay the debt off slowly.

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.