Tag Archives: Toronto Star

Aug 25: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Welcome to the back to school issue of Best from the blogosphere. Regardless of what part of the country you live in, days are getting shorter, nights are cooler and there is a touch of colour on the few leaves that are already drifting to the ground.

That can only mean that soon the kids will be back in school and your “to do list” includes school supplies and provisions for school lunches.

In the Toronto Star, Dana Flavelle reports on a survey that says back to school shopping is going to be more expensive this year. Just over half of Canadians polled said they will spend more $200 on their sons and daughters (at 54% and 56% respectively), while 12% will fork over more than $400 for clothing and school supplies. To help stay on budget you may want to re-visit Back to school shopping: A teachable moment posted on savewithspp.com last year.

On Brighter Life, Diana Mancuso writes about preparing your child for back-to-school. Whether this is the first time youa re sending your child to school or you are a seasoned pro, preparation is always key to ensuring a smooth transition from summer vacation to the classroom.  For example, easing into back-to-school bedtime and morning routines plays a crucial role at this time of year.

If your child is heading off to college, you may be interested in Tori Flood’s article on Yahoo!NEWS discussing the dorm gadgets you don’t want to forget when heading back to school. Some of these like a smart TV and a wireless router may seem pretty over-the-top, particularly for students on a beer budget. But I really like the hot pot that can boil water like an electric kettle and also cook food directly so hungry students can avoid having to use the hotplate in the communal kitchen. A white noise machine might also be useful in noisy dorms.

Should your child have a smart phone or a dumb phone or any phone at all? Yahoo tech columnist Dan Tynan says give younger kids a dumb phone. A simplified feature phone that lets you talk to them and get their location is more than enough for most pre-tweens. Like training wheels on a bike, dumb phones are an excellent way to teach kids how to communicate through technology.

And going back to school isn’t just for kids. If you have been thinking about taking courses to upgrade or change careers, take a look at 10 ways you can afford to go back to school on Canadian Living. For example, you can use the federal government’s lifelong learning plan to take money out of your RRSP – without paying a penalty – to help pay for your post-secondary studies. Also, you don’t have to be a kid to have a registered educational savings plan (although the government will not augment your contributions),

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.

Aug 18: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robb Engen takes on new challenges

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Hi,

Today in savewithspp.com’s continuing series of interviews with financial bloggers, we talk with Robb Engen. Robb is “Echo” from the very popular Canadian personal finance blog Boomer & Echo. He also has a bi-weekly column in the Toronto Star where his research focuses on budgeting, banking, credit cards, and debt management.

Robb is a happily married Dad living in Southern Alberta. Over the past five years he has gone from taking an amateur interest in personal finance and investing to working towards becoming a full-fledged money expert by taking the four-course Certified Financial Planner program online.

In addition to writing this blog, he appears regularly in the online podcasts Because Money.  He and his mother Marie have started a “fee only” financial planning business and Robb has a new blog called Earn Save Grow.

Thank you very much for joining me today Robb.

I’m glad to be here Sheryl.

Q:  Robb, you’re one busy guy. Before we start talking about your blogs, tell me a little bit about your day job.
A: Sure. In addition to all that you mentioned, I do have a day job, and I’m the Business Development Manager at the University of Lethbridge. That’s a fancy title saying I fund raise and generate revenue for our sports teams here in Lethbridge.

Q: When did you and Marie start “Boomer and Echo”, and why?
A: We started it back in August 2010, so we’ve been at it almost four years. My mom worked for a big bank for two decades plus, and we always chatted about personal finance and investing.

We just had our first child, so there was a lot going on financially, and I started reading a lot of personal finance blogs. My Mom and I thought we might have a unique spin on financial issues.

We wrote a couple of articles, just to get the feeling for putting that kind of thing together, and I did some research on how to start a blog. Then we just jumped into it, I guess.

Q: How many hits do you typically get when you post a blog?
A: We’ve built up a pretty decent-sized following, and most people follow us by Email. We have about 6,000 email subscribers, and of that, I’d say two to three thousand probably actually click through to the blog to read a new post, and some probably just read it by email.

Q: What have some of your most popular posts been about?
A: I’d say probably the more personal stories. When I talk about my changing careers and what that looks like and dealing with a pension plan versus in the private sector, trying to save on your own. I wrote about the challenges I had as a first-time homebuyer, and that got a lot of hits. My mom’s had the same success talking about personal stories.

Q: How have you been able to monetize your blog? What have some of the spinoffs been?
A: I saw that Google has their AdSense network, and that seemed to be the go-to place for monetizing a blog, so we’ve done okay there. It also seems to be that writing about personal finance and investing tends to find more advertisers than say, if you were to write about cats or maybe photography or something like that.

Q: You also blogged for the Toronto Star’s site “Moneyville” three days a week, and now you’re writing a column for thestar.com so those really are spinoffs from your blog as well.
A: Yeah, and what I noticed were some of the more profitable things that people search for information about are rewards cards and loyalty programs. I didn’t want to inundate my Boomer & Echo blog, with posts about air miles and aeroplan so I started a little offshoot called “Rewards Cards Canada,” and that’s where I talk about that niche area.

Q: How many hours a week do you spend on your own blog and the various other related personal finance activities outside your 9-to-5 job?
A: I’d say, for all the online activities, I probably spend about two hours a night from Sunday to Thursday. 

Q: Tell me how the “Because Money” series on YouTube works and the technology used to link Moderator Jackson Middleton with you and the other interview subjects. 
A: I attended the fantastic Canadian Personal Finance Blogger’s Conference in Toronto, and one of the takeaways I got was maybe, try to explore some different forms of media. Video blogging has really come into the forefront now.

Sandy Martin, a fee-only planner who writes at Spring Personal Finance knew marketing and social media manager Jackson Middleton, and so we all got together and decided to do this video series called “Because Money.”

It’s all done through the social network, Google Plus. Google owns YouTube, and they formed what they call “Hangouts on Air.” It’s like a Skype video call. You can get up to 10 people, video chatting on hangout at the same time, and you can put it live on air or you can just record it and play it later. We do it live every Wednesday night.

Q: What kind of hits are you getting on it?
A: Pretty good. We get a couple hundred views a week, and when we have better know people on, like Rob Carrick and Dan Bortolotti, we get a lot more views.

Q: You’re also taking certified financial planner courses, and along with Marie, you’re now offering a unique fee-only personal finance planning service online. How does the service work, and how’s it going?
A: What we found was, we built up quite a following over the years, and that people would Email us and ask about their own situation. Without knowing their complete background and history and their goals moving forward, it’s pretty much impossible to give that tailored, specific advice.

So we talked about this and came up with a fee-only model where we’d work with a client for a year. We develop a financial plan together. Clients get unlimited access to us by phone, email, Google Plus, Skype, whatever, and they can talk about their own financial issues without any pressure to buy anything. We are not licensed to sell products.

Q: You recently launched a new blog called “Earn, Save, Grow.” What do you hope to accomplish with this blog, and how is it different from subjects covered with “Boomer and Echo?”
A: I started a new blog because Boomer & Echo focuses a lot on frugality and money-saving tips and a bit of investing. But I don’t know that the audience is quite there for discussions about earning extra money. There’s always the debate whether you should try to earn more money versus spending less.

Obviously, I’m going to cross promote it a little bit with Boomer and Echo, but time will tell what kind of audience moves over there and is interested in how to make more money or do something on the side with their time. I don’t intend to monetize this site, so I won’t have any ads up there, at least for now.

Q: If you had one piece of advice for Canadians struggling to make ends meet and save for retirement, what would it be?
A: We talked about this in “Because Money” with Rob Carrick recently. The real estate market has gone up so much, and people just feel this need to be a homeowner, and without necessarily understanding the full financial costs.

You can’t spend 40% to 50% of your income on a place to live and still expect to save for retirement, have kids, save up for their education and still have some money left over to go out for a beer or go for a nice dinner. I think we have to rethink the idea of renting for a little while so that if you buy a home you can really afford it.

That’s great. Thank you very much for talking to me today, I’m sure the “savewithspp.com” readers will really be interested in what you had to say.

Thanks for having me, Sheryl. It was a pleasure.


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

May 12: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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This week there were several interesting blogs about life insurance I’d like to share with you.

On Brighter Life, Kevin Press discusses Understanding life insurance. First of all he gives basic information regarding term, permanent and universal health insurance. But for Kevin, the question was never “term or permanent.” It was, “How much term and how much permanent?”

Robb Engen from Boomer & Echo outlines The 4 Best Strategies for Successful Life Insurance Applications including preliminary inquiries, multiple applications, a covering letter and an insurance broker who is knowledgeable and up to date.

In a Toronto Star column I wrote about Eight red flags when you apply for life insurance. If your application reveals you have or had a serious or life-threatening illness the insurer may charge you higher premiums or postpone coverage for specific conditions until you can show the condition has stabilized. Or, the insurer may refuse to cover you. However, you still may be a good candidate for a “simplified issue” policy.

In an archived article Retire Happy blogger Jim Yih tackles the question, Do you need life insurance in retirement? Several of the situations where he says life insurance makes sense for retirees are to:

  • Pay off debt
  • Cover taxes at death
  • Cover final expenses like funeral expenses
  • Provide income for dependants
  • Leave a larger estate
  • Equalize your estate
  • Business continuation
  • Provide for charities

And finally this week, thanks go to Dan on Our Big Fat Wallet who introduced his readers to The Secret Pension Plan: Saskatchewan Pension Plan. He gives a great summary of the main features of the program.

He says the Saskatchewan Pension Plan is great for anyone looking to invest but not quite comfortable with DIY investing. It’s also useful for the self-employed who have no desire to handle their own investments. The costs of the plan are low and they offer lots of flexibility. You can also get potentially-lucrative cash back rewards for all contributions if you make them on your credit card.

Many employers also offer this easy-to-administer pension plans as an employee benefit. You can get more information on the Saskatchewan Pension Plan here.

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.

Krystal Yee blogs her way to financial independence

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Hi,

Today we are continuing with the 2014 savewithSPP.com series of podcast interviews with personal finance bloggers. I’m talking to Krystal Yee who blogs on “Give me back my five bucks” and the “Frugal Wanderer.”

With over eight years of professional experience in marketing, communications, and writing, her career has spanned a variety of different industries. From ghost writing in the provincial government, event coordinating for a professional hockey team, to marketing cold water survival gear – she’s done just about everything.

In 2012 Krystal lived in Stuttgart, Germany. There, she worked remotely for clients such as the Toronto Star (moneyville.ca), Canadian Living, and Flare Magazine. In her spare time, she loves travelling, hiking, tweeting, and analyzing baseball statistics.

Hi Krystal. Thanks for joining me today.

Thanks for having me.

Q: When and why did you start your blog “givemebackmyfivebucks”?
A: Well, I started that blog back in February 2007, because I was finding it hard to relate to my friends in real life about the money issues I was having. I was uncomfortable bringing up a topic that, at the time, seemed really personal.

So once I found that personal finance blogs existed, I became really inspired and motivated, knowing there are other people out there like me who wanted to change their lives. That was the reason why I started my own blog.

Q: Seven years ago you had over $20,000 in student debt and no money. Now, you are a debt free homeowner. How did you do it?
A: It was a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but I knew that I needed a life change. And I decided not to hide from my debt any longer, and that was really, really scary. The first thing I did was calculate how much I owed. I gave myself one year to get out of debt. So I started building budgets, saving money any way I could, and increasing my income. And actually attacking my debt from all of those angles helped to speed up the process.

Q: What are some of the mistakes you think that you made along the way before you got on your debt repayment plan, and what would you do differently if you had it to just do all over again?
A: I think one of my biggest mistakes was not creating a realistic budget. I wanted to get where I wanted to be as fast as possible, but I didn’t take into account how unsustainable that would be. After taking that year to get out of debt, I thought I could keep up with this bare bones budget to save money faster but I started to get really tired of what I perceived as constant deprivation.

As a result I found that I was rebelling against myself and my goals, and that was a really strange feeling. It actually took me a few months to realize what was actually realistic in the long term. And even today, I really have to question the budgets I make for myself and the goals I’m settings, just to make sure they satisfy the saver in me, but it also lets me live the kind of lifestyle that I want.

Q: Now, in “givemebackmyfivebucks,” you discuss your financial goals, your successes and failures. You put up weekly and monthly budgets. That’s really baring your soul. What reaction have you had from family and friends and your readers?
A: Well, for the first few years I started my blog, I was actually anonymous, so I felt safe. I was scared of what my family and friends would say about how much I was sharing on the internet, but once I actually started writing for The Toronto Star’s website moneyville.ca, I realized that speaking frankly and opening myself up, was really empowering.

Q: In 2012, you moved to a very small apartment in Stuttgart and worked remote. What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
A: It was really liberating moving to Germany and working for myself. You know, everyone dreams about quitting the 9-to-5 routine and becoming your own boss. I imagined sitting in European cafes all day long people watching and writing for clients. While I did that almost every day, because of the time zone difference, I also had to work a lot of late nights since my clients were all in North America. It was a really big adjustment for me.

But I think the biggest challenge was the isolation. Not only was I in a country where everyone spoke a different language, but working for myself. So when I moved back to Vancouver, I went back to a corporate job because I needed that daily interaction with other people.

Q: You love to travel and you manage to travel economically. You write about your experiences on the “frugalwanderer.” What has been your favorite trip to date?
A: Oh, my favorite trip was the one I took in November 2013 to Morocco. It was a mix of the people and the landscape and the food that made it so exciting. And I never thought I’d get the opportunity to travel to Africa, sleep under the stars in the Sahara, drink tea in Marrakesh or go hiking in the mountains. It was fantastic. And once I took the time to budget out how much everything costs and how I could save money on the trip, it quickly became a reality.

Q: How many hits do you typically get when you post a blog?
A: Well, it really varies depending what the content is and whether other websites pick up the blog posts. If it’s just my traffic on a daily basis, you know, it can be anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 visitors a day. When I get picked up by another website, it can go up to 10,000 visitors a day or higher.

Q: What have some of the most popular blogs been?
A: Surprisingly, over the last seven years, my most popular posts have been about how to upgrade ramen soup to make it taste better and how much you’ll need to save up in order to move out of your parents’ house the first time.

Q: Oh, that’s interesting.
A: Other popular posts have been a comparison of prices at Target Canada to Target USA; what your net worth should be by the time you’re 30; and a post about the myth of having to travel when you’re young.

Q: What have some of the spin-offs from blogging been for you?
A: Having my blog has opened up a lot of doors for me that I never would have thought possible. What started out, essentially as an online diary to help me stay accountable for my goals has turned into this vehicle that I can actually use to make money and help people at the same time.

You know, through blogging, I’ve been offered writing contracts with moneyville.ca, The Toronto Star, Canadian Living, Flare Magazine, Metro News and other publications. I’ve spoken to the media on different topics and I get to partner with really fun companies at the same time. Recently I finished a campaign with H&R Block and I’m a regular Twitter contributor for RBC.

So I think that those kinds of partnerships make blogging fun and make it more interesting. In the future, I hope to continue blogging about my journey towards financial independence. And I really love how my hobby and what I’m passionate about has turned into a part-time job for me

Q: If you had one piece of advice for Canadians trying to get their finances in order, what would it be?
A: Oh wow, just one piece of advice. If you’ve never taken a good look at your finances, my advice would be to create a budget and stick to it. I mean, it’s fun to spend money. So we convince ourselves that it’s okay, because we have a better job around the corner, a bonus that will cover the shortfall, or because we think we deserve it.

But the truth is no matter how much money you make, there’s always going to be something you can’t afford. When I first started budgeting, I saw it as a restriction. It was a way to stop me from having fun. I didn’t understand that it was helping me manage my money, so that I could have even more fun with my life.

And by choosing where my money went and how I spent it, and by living below my means, I was creating a really stress-free lifestyle which I never had before, and a better future. So I think budgeting is the number one thing that I would tell people to do.

Thank you very much Krystal. It was a pleasure talking to you today.

My pleasure. Thank you.

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 Give Me Back My Five Bucks and Frugal Wanderer, you can find them here and here. Subscribe to receive blog posts by e:mail as soon as they’re available.

Mar 31: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Most of us assume that at some less than precise date in the future we will retire. However, on retirehappy.ca this week Scott Wallace questions whether or not you should retire.

He says that people who choose to continue some form of work for five years or more after they leave their full-time job are not as worried about money. Nevertheless, those who retire completely and fill their days with hobbies, volunteering and family may have an equally comfortable retirement.

In her Toronto Star column, Ellen Roseman profiles Annie and Rich English, a married couple with no kids, who since age 48 have been living the dream of early retirement in downtown Toronto. Their secret is saving ruthlessly for years and planning ahead for shortfalls. You can find tips in their new self-published book, Retired at 48: One Couple’s Journey to a Pensionless Retirement.

Guest blogger Dave writes on Canadian Dream: Retire at 45 that he and his wife have been living frugally so they can retire two decades before most Canadians. However, this week he acknowledges that some compromises along the way have been essential. “I am less of a stick in the mud around money, and my wife is not constantly being harped at for her excessive purchases of $8 ‘girl shirts’ (which are basically disposable clothes),” he says.

To help stay on course over the long haul, take a look at 5 free budget and personal finance apps for everyone reviewed by Kerry K. Taylor on Squawkfox. Keeping tabs on every dollar spent doesn’t have to be a drag or a lot of work. Your smartphone — the device you rarely part from — is the perfect tool to do the heavy lifting for you.

And don’t forget that every dollar saved is a dollar earned, particularly on your utility bills. Tom Drake gives 10 ways to reduce your electricity bills and 10 ways to reduce your water bills like don’t forget to turn off the tap while you are brushing your teeth and only wash full loads of dishes.

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 4: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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Within the last few weeks the push to expand the Canada Pension Plan has been gathering steam in Ontario and PEI. Here are some articles from the mainstream media that will bring you up to speed on the arguments pro and con.

Push to expand Canada Pension Plan gaining steam

Grow the CPP – A better way to save | Canadian Labour Congress

CPP expansion would be too late for poor retired Boomers: study …

Time to put Flaherty on the spot | Toronto Star

CFIB: Canada can’t afford CPP expansion | Financial Post

But I really like Tim Stobbs’ take on the argument that we can’t expand CPP because higher payroll taxes will kill jobs. On Canadian Dream: Free at 45, he says, “Raising a tax won’t kill jobs…it will likely shift some around, but not remove them from the total.  So don’t hide behind that as an excuse to avoid changing a program that will help the majority of people save for retirement.”

But even if CPP is expanded, it will take a generation or more for Canadians to realize the full benefits of an enhanced program. That’s why you need to save and invest on your own. Find out how to maximize your savings for retirement and other objectives in 5 Financial Principles from a 34 Year Old Millionaire Investor.

If you have a workplace pension and are wondering about whether or not you should also contribute to an RRSP, take a look at this archived blog from Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

And as the year comes to an end, many of us will be faced with the dreaded performance review. On Brighter Life, Gerald McGroarty offers 10 tips to help make your year-end appraisal an occasion for celebration, not frustration.

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.

Jun 17: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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This week we provide links to blogs and articles for students and new graduates.

On GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca the Investor Education Fund provides Money essentials: A survival kit for students, including how to manage student debt so it doesn’t get out of control.

If you are trying to avoid student debt altogether, read Toronto Star consumer columnist Ellen Roseman’s profile of two young men who finished university without applying for student loans. They just wrote a book called More money for beer and textbooks.

Don’t miss the Harvard Business Review’s Twelve rules for new grads. My favourite is “learn to listen and listen to learn.”

Does every interesting job you apply for require experience you don’t have? Take a look at How to get hired if you are unqualified on New Grad Life.

Finally, Gerald McGroarty shares Five secrets to finding a better work-life balance on BrighterLife.ca.

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 on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

May 6: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

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There is lots of interesting reading in the blogosphere this week.

Squawkfox Kerry K. Taylor counsels husband Carl on what to do with the $100 bill he found.

On boomer & echo Boomer comments on senior discounts vanishing from our banks.

Marissa is a 20-something recent grad with credit card debt and student loans. On Thirty Six Months she talks about being a good consumer by voting with your wallet.

Timeless Finance blogger Adina J. says if she had the choice, she would earn more instead of spending less to stay solvent.

And finally, Riscario Insider reviews Toronto Star consumer columnist Ellen Roseman’s terrific new book Fightback: 81 ways to help you save money and protect yourself from corporate trickery.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?”  Send us an email with the information to socialmedia@saskpension.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.