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Trash Your Debt offers sensible advice on slaying the debt monster

June 17, 2021

Getting rid of debt is very similar to de-cluttering. You want to take action, but when you actually sit down and look over just how much there is – more than can be got rid of quickly – it soon becomes daunting, and easier to retreat than to move forward.

Trash Your Debt, by Arnold D. Fredrick, is a nice little book that can help you make progress.

He tells the tale of his early days of maxed out credit cards, car loans, medical bills (he’s in the U.S.) and more, leaving “about $25 per two weeks for food,” and finding themselves “$100 more in the hole every two weeks.” He had out of control debt that was growing, he explains.

The way forward, he writes, is “do something! Sounds a little simple, but in that simple statement lies the secret. Doing something is going to get you out of debt years faster than doing nothing. Doing something will propel you to financial freedom and out of the slavery of debt.”

First, he advises, write down the “why” of getting out of debt, the goals you want to achieve, and the “daily, weekly or monthly steps to achieving your goal.” The goals are important – setting a target means you can measure your progress.

The how involves setting a budget, he writes. And it involves the seemingly simple idea that you must “stop spending more than you make.” He likens the situation to a bathtub that leaks – the more leaks you have (expenses), the more money it takes to fill the tub.

When he looked at his family’s income and expenses, he saw that he was consistently spending more than he earned. So he made spending cuts – cable TV was cut to basic, lunches for work were packed, a meal plan assisted grocery shopping, they bought in bulk and on sale, they shopped for a better phone plan, and more. “Save all the savings,” he says.

Another nice concept in the book is that of the “10 per cent, 10 per cent, 80 per cent” rule. Consider giving 10 per cent to charity, save 10 per cent for your future, and live on the remaining 80 per cent, he explains.

In addition to setting aside money for good causes or charity, setting aside 10 per cent “for you” is essential. “So many people go through life working for someone else and never pay themselves from what they earn,” he explains. Putting away money as you start your career can make your retirement much easier, he notes.

Fredrick is not a believer in cash. He likes a “Visa check card,” (similar to a debit card) because he has a record of all his spending and can quickly spot “trends” where his family may be overspending. With cash, you get no such record, he says. He also recommends cancelling credit cards as soon as you pay them off. Try, he writes, to pay off the higher-interest card first.

Near the end of the book he says there is a monster within us that gets in the way of financial freedom. “The monster is the thing within you that stops you from achieving your greatest potential. For some, the monster is fear – fear of success, fear of change, fear of being responsible or fear of failure. Fear is a strong monster.”

The monster can be killed, he concludes, by small, steady and daily actions. “Don’t let a single day go by without taking a stab at your monster,” he says.

This is a fun, candid, and well-thought-out little book that’s a fine addition to your financial bookshelf.

Just as we can kill a large debt by chipping away at it slowly and regularly, we can also build up our retirement savings little by little. The Saskatchewan Pension Plan permits you to contribute via your online banking platform. SPP can be set up as a bill, and you can chip in little amounts — $10 from a scratch ticket, $5 from returning empties, $100 from a yard sale – as you go. You’ll be amazed how those tiny additions to your nest egg can add up. Check out SPP today!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Pandemic has meant tough times for those who love cash

February 11, 2021

It wasn’t all that long ago that cash was considered the smart way to go, in terms of saving and budgeting.

Who can forget watching the great ‘Til Debt Do Us Part TV series, featuring Gail Vaz-Oxlade, where a key lesson to managing household budgeting was to save up change and bills in jars, one jar for food, one for fuel, one for entertainment, and so on. The jars of cash forced you to follow a budget, and credit cards and lines of credit weren’t allowed.

And what about the advice of American financier Mark Cuban about the dealmaking cash provides – he notes that “you’ll get better results if you negotiate with cash.” As an example, if you say “all I have is $40 cash,” maybe the vendor will settle for that instead of a higher amount. No such wiggle room exists with credit and debit cards.

But along came the pandemic to make the world tremble for cash users.

“More businesses are going cashless during the COVID-19 pandemic and are asking customers to use debit, credit or app payments as a precautionary measure,” notes the CBC. Some retailers are refusing to take cash altogether, others deal with it in a safer way, using tongs and little cash boxes.

The concern with cash is, of course, health-related; handing over bills and cash is a hand-to-hand action that does carry risk. Contactless payments are seen as safer.

In the U.K., contactless payment has risen by as much as 64 per cent of all transactions, reports MSN Money.

Major retailer Asda is now accepting payment from a wider range of mobile devices, and contactless payment limits – once quite small – have been ramped up, the article notes. The limit is now 45 pounds – about $78 Canadian.

Here at home, NFCW reports that Visa and MasterCard limits for contactless payments have jumped up to $250.

A final indicator of the cashless society is the use of automatic teller machines (ATMs). In the UK, reports PA Media via MSN. ATM use is down a whopping 60 per cent.

“When people do use a cash machine, they are typically withdrawing more money. The average cash machine withdrawal is now around £80, up from around £65 before the lockdown,” the article notes.

Seventy-five per cent of Brits surveyed say they are using less cash these days – and 14 per cent say they are keeping any cash they accumulate at home, perhaps in a piggy bank, for emergencies, the article concludes.

So King Cash has been dethroned, at least until the pandemic is over. No doubt the throne will be reoccupied one day when the pandemic is under control, and it’s safe to shop with a wallet filled with bills and coins.

Got some cash piling up? While saving it for an emergency is a great idea, so is saving it for your retirement. There aren’t as many people lining up at those green coin counting machines these days, so bring your piggy bank of coins there and convert it to bills. Those can then be tucked into your savings account via an ATM.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan has a great “pay yourself first” feature worth knowing about. You can set up SPP as a bill in most online banking applications. Then you can pop those piggy bank dollars into your SPP as easily as you can pay the cable bill. Not a member of SPP? Check them out today – 2021 marks their 35th year of delivering retirement security.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.


Put SPP under the Christmas tree

December 15, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s tough to come up with ideas year after year for memorable holiday gifts, particularly for young adults. One gift that will stand the test of time is contributions to a retirement savings account with the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

Anyone age 18 to 71 can join SPP. Participation is not restricted by where they live or membership in other plans. However, in order to contribute members must have available RRSP room. The member application form is available online and must be submitted with a photocopy of the prospective member’s birth certificate, driver’s license or passport.

Maximum annual contributions (which become locked in until retirement) are $2,500/year but up to $10,000 per year can be transferred in from another RRSP. SPP is designed to be very flexible and to accommodate individual financial circumstances. There is no minimum contribution. Even contributing $10 per month will build an SPP account and provide a plan member with additional pension at retirement.

Contributions can be made in a number of ways: directly from a bank account using the PAC system on the 1st or 15th of the month; at a financial institution using a contribution form; using a VISA or MasterCard; through online banking; or by mail to the Plan office in Kindersley. SPP also provides the option to make contribution online using your VISA or MasterCard.

This means you can make an SPP contribution as a one-time gift this Christmas or make recurrent gifts at regular or irregular intervals for future occasions. One way to encourage your friend or relative to continue contributing to SPP is to offer to match contributions up to a specified amount – much like employers do in company plans.

The Plan’s average return to members since inception (1986 – 2015) is 8.10%. The five year average is 7.57% and the ten year average is 5.25%.  SPP has independent, professional money managers. The funds are invested in a diversified portfolio of high quality investments to ensure a competitive rate of return.

Chances are that 20-somethings entering the work force today will have precarious work for at least the first few years of their career with organizations that do not offer a retirement savings plan. Once they are married and have children, retirement savings may take a back seat to mortgage payments and daycare costs.

Helping a friend or relative to develop the retirement savings habit and topping up their savings is an invaluable gift. Savings of just $2,500/year earning interest at 5% will result in a retirement savings balance of $237,672.11.

So make gift giving this year easy by putting  SPP under the Christmas tree!


Nearly half of Saskatchewan residents live from pay cheque to pay cheque

October 27, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

For many working Canadians and for those in Saskatchewan, the road to a comfortable retirement is becoming longer and more difficult.  A large portion of the working population is living pay cheque to pay cheque, unable to save, and worried about their local economy, according to the Canadian Payroll Association’s recently released eighth annual Research Survey of Employed Canadians

The survey reveals that only 36% of working Canadians and 37% of those in Saskatchewan expect the economy in their city or town to improve in the coming year.

Many working Canadians are cash-strapped and barely making ends meet. Nationally, and in Saskatchewan, almost half (48%) report it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by even a single week.

“A significant percentage of working Canadians carry debt, have a gloomy view of their local economy and are fearful of rising interest rates, inflation, and costs of living,” says Patrick Culhane, the Canadian Payroll Association’s President and CEO. “In this time of uncertainty, people need to take control of their finances by saving more. ‘Paying yourself first’ (by automatically directing at least 10% of net pay into a separate savings account or retirement plan) enables employees to exercise some control over their financial future.”

Incomes flat, saving capacity drained by spending and debt

“Survey data suggests that household income growth has stalled, as respondents reporting household income above $100K has hardly increased in five years,” says Alec Milne, Principal at research provider Framework Partners. “In fact, real incomes have actually declined when inflation is taken into account.”

While pay has remained largely unchanged, employees’ spending and debt levels have affected their ability to save. Nationally, and in Saskatchewan, 40% of employees say they spend all of or more than their net pay

Despite employees’ challenging financial situations, only 28% of respondents across the country cite higher wages as a top priority.  Instead, an overwhelming 48% nationally, are most interested in better work-life balance and a healthy work environment. In Saskatchewan only 25% prioritize higher wages, while 45% are most interested in better work-life balance and a healthy work environment.

“Clearly, many Canadians are concerned about their financial situation,” says Lucy Zambon, the Canadian Payroll Association’s Board Chair.  “But better work-life balance does not have to mean reduced financial security if you spend within your means.”

Over one-third (39%) of working Canadians feel overwhelmed by their level of debt, an increase from the three-year average of 36%. Debt levels have risen over the past year for 31% of respondents. In Saskatchewan, 35% feel overwhelmed by debt and 35% say their debt level has increased this year. Unfortunately, 11% nationally and 9% in Saskatchewan (among the lowest nationwide) do not think they will ever be debt free.

Similar to prior years, 93% of respondents nationally carry debt (96% in Saskatchewan). Over half of respondents nationally (58%) said that debt and the economy are the biggest impediments to saving for retirement.

Retirement savings fall short, retirement pushed back

Half of Canadians and 59% of Saskatchewan respondents think they will need a retirement nest-egg of at least $1 million.

Unable to save adequately, the vast majority of working Canadians have fallen far behind their retirement goals, with 76% nationally and 74% in Saskatchewan saying they have saved only one-quarter or less of what they feel they will need.

Nearly one-half of employees nationally (45%) now expect they’ll have to work longer than they had originally planned five years ago, primarily because they have not saved enough. Nationally, respondents’ average target retirement has risen to 62, whereas these same respondents’ target retirement age five years ago was 60, before reality set in.

Saskatchewan Pension Plan makes retirement savings easy

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan makes saving for retirement easy by offering all Canadians between the ages of 18 and 71 a flexible series of contribution options that can be modified at any time. Plan members can contribute up to $2,500/year:

  • Directly from their bank account or credit card using the PAC system on the 1st or 15th of the month using a semi-monthly, monthly, semiannual, or annual schedule.
  • Using VISA® or MasterCard® online at SaskPension.com or by calling toll free, 1-800-667-7153.
  • At financial institutions, in branch or online
  • By mailing directly to the SPP office in Kindersley

Members can also transfer up to $10,000/year from another RRSP into their SPP account.


RRSP frenzy

February 5, 2016

 

With the RRSP deadline a mere three weeks away, we thought providing you with an FYI blog would make this time of year easier for everyone.

Monday, February 29, 2016 is the final day to contribute to your RRSP for the 2015 tax year. SPP contributions must be received at the office in Kindersley on or before that day.

There’s several fast convenient ways to make your SPP contribution in order to meet the deadline.

  • Use your credit card via;
    • yours online banking service;
    • call our office (1-800-667-7153) during regular business hours or;
    • you can use our website.
  • Cheques can be mailed into our office, please make sure you mail them no later than mid February.
  • If you are in the Kindersley area come visit our office and make your contribution in person.

In case you missed it, the SPP balanced fund returned 6.25% in 2015.  The short-term fund return was 0.45% in 2015. You are can see your full returns here.

A couple of weeks ago we posted an SPP quiz in this blog. If you haven’t already taken the quiz, check it out at http://wp.me/p1YR2T-1dI. There is a chance to win prizes!

Finally, watch the snail mail for tax receipt and member statements coming your way over the next month.

You can reach us at info@saskpension.com or check out our website:  saskpension.com.  We have an enhanced wealth calculator that can help you determine how long your money will last in retirement.

Thanks for your continuing support of SPP.

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Why SPP is a great stocking stuffer

December 10, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

The problem with giving cash or gift cards for Christmas is that the money gets spent and the person receiving the gift often is left with little of long lasting value. Gadgets like the latest video game or smart phone get broken or become obsolete. Clothes may not fit properly to start with, or quickly go out of style.

But if you put the Saskatchewan Pension Plan in your children or grandchildren’s Christmas stocking, you will be giving them a gift that keeps on giving. SPP is a voluntary, money purchase plan you can contribute to in order to help them accumulate funds for retirement.

Anyone between ages 18 and 71 with available RRSP room is eligible to join the 33,000 other people who are already part of SPP. The only way to join SPP is by signing up directly. SPP does not have a sales force and commissions are not paid to anyone for selling the Plan.

Contributions to SPP are permitted up to an annual maximum of $2,500, again, subject to available RRSP room. There is no minimum payment and you decide on the contribution schedule and payment method. For example, choose from one of the following methods:

  • By mail (A contribution form is required )
  • In person or by online banking at your financial institution
  • By phone using your credit card (1-800-667-7153)
  • Online, or
  • Directly from your bank account on a pre-authorized contribution schedule (PAC)

You can change your contribution level or stop making contributions at any time. One way to incent your family members to learn about the plan and keep on saving is to challenge them by agreeing to match their monthly or annual contributions up to a stated amount.

SPP accounts are locked-in and earn interest until the member retires. If he/she dies before retiring, the funds in the account will be paid to the person’s beneficiary.

SPP allocates 100% of the market rate of return, less operating expenses, to members monthly. Since inception, the fund returns have been an average of 8.1%. The return history in the balanced fund for the last 10 years is shown below.

Balanced fund
Year Earnings % MER %
2014 9.10 0.95
2013 15.77 1.00
2012 8.45 1.07
2011 -1.01 1.14
2010 9.42 1.04
2009 12.68 1.01
2008 -16.23 1.00
2007 -0.33 0.94
2006 12.51 0.90
2005 10.13 0.82

Family therapist Carol Mitchell believes so strongly in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) that she signed up several of her family members and deposited money into their accounts. She plans to make contributions for these relatives again in 2015.

Mitchell hopes her family members will continue to contribute to SPP above and beyond her gifts to them; however, she recognizes that some years they may have other, more pressing financial priorities. “The flexibility to contribute whatever they can afford to SPP each year is one reason I really like the program,” she says.

“I decided to invest in their futures,” Mitchell continues. “Someday I’m going to die and they are not going to remember they spent the $100 I gave them on a sweater or a dinner out. But when it comes time for their retirement, they’ll remember I believed in them and put money aside in their names.”


Safe travel tips for Snowbirds

November 26, 2015

SNOWBIRDS SERIES
By Sheryl Smolkin

For many seniors, no longer having time constraints on when or how long they travel can travel for is a very big bonus of being retired. And winter is a prime period for travelling snowbirds who want to get away from the frigid weather in most parts of Canada. A few weeks or more in Florida or Arizona are typical destinations for many older Canadians. But others seeking more adventurous and less costly vacations are planning to visit a myriad of more exotic locations like Ecuador, Uruguay, Panama, Mexico, Malaysia and Thailand.

Whether you are planning to travel across the continent or around the world, the 10 safety tips below will help to ensure you get to your destination and back without any unnecessary delays or nasty surprises.

  1. Check your visa: Find out if you need a visa, how to get it and how long it is good for. When my husband and I planned a trip to Russia and Ukraine with a synagogue group, I didn’t carefully check the dates when I picked up our visas. We were planning to travel in May and the date on my visa was correct, but my husband’s said March. We could not get on the plane to Moscow from our stop-over in Munich and the problem couldn’t be fixed, so we lost a week’s vacation and thousands of dollars. Visa problems are not covered by trip interruption insurance.
  2. Credit cards: Take several credit cards and keep them in different places so you have backup if your card or your wallet is stolen. Make sure to call your bank and credit card companies before you leave. Otherwise if they see an unusual spending pattern on your card, it may be refused. Also take photocopies of your cards and record the telephone numbers you have to call if they are lost or stolen so you can move quickly if necessary.
  3. Travel insurance: Review any travel insurance you have on credit cards, through work or other groups to ensure it covers the duration of your trip and the kinds of activities you are planning. Otherwise you may need additional coverage. Complete all medical information accurately or coverage may be denied. Understand the “pre-existing conditions” exemptions under the policy.
  4. Pack light: This is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” I always take far too much! The ideal of course, is to take one small bag so you don’t have to spend hours waiting for checked baggage or risk that your bags don’t arrive when you do. Also if you have large heavy bags you are much less mobile and you run a greater risk of straining muscles or falling.
  5. Check with your doctor: Schedule a doctor’s appointment before you leave. Renew your prescriptions for the length of time you will be away and pack them in the original container. Take enough for a few days in your carry-on luggage in case your bags are lost. Ask if you need any additional vaccinations before you go. Depending on your destination, your doctor may refer you to a travel clinic.
  6. Avoid pick pockets: Be really alert and aware of your purse or wallet at all times. Ideally women should wear a cross-body purse that cannot be snatched off your shoulder. Men, do not put your wallet in your back pocket. Travel clothing has lots of hidden pockets with velcro flaps where you can safely hide your valuables. Don’t ever put your wallet down on a counter and take your eyes off it when you are making a purchase.
  7. Other valuables: Leave your diamond rings and other flashy, expensive jewelry at home. I feel really peculiar without a wedding ring and there are often formal nights on cruises so I bought some glitzy fakes that I travel with instead. But thieves often don’t know the difference so don’t wear anything too sparkly in dangerous areas. And always use the safe in your room for extra cash, credit cards, your passports and small electronics.
  8. Ask for special services: Airports are vast and travelers typically have to walk very long distances to get from the entrance to check-in, through security and then to the gates. Ask for wheelchair service if you need it. If the airline provides the service there is typically no charge.
  9. Be realistic: If you haven’t skied in 30 years, don’t plan a vacation skiing in the Alps. Unless you are an experienced scuba diver and you are in excellent health, age 80 is probably not a good time to do a deep dive on the Great Barrier Reef. A bus trip to 15 cities in 20 days will leave you exhausted and the only thing you will remember about your holiday is the pictures.
  10. Leave contact information: Make sure family members have a copy of your itinerary and telephone numbers for your hotels, tour operators etc. who can reach you. These days the texting, data and calling features of your smart phone can be activated all over the world, but unless you get a roaming package before you leave or buy a local SIM card for your unlocked phone, it can be very expensive. While you may want to “get off the grid” and turn off your electronics, there are definite advantages to having connectivity in a health or travel emergency.

 

Also read:
Martin Firestone: What Snowbirds Need to Know About Travel Insurance


Saskatchewan residents need to save more for retirement

November 5, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

A National payroll survey conducted in September 2015 by the Canadian Payroll Association finds three-quarters of working Canadians have saved just 25% or less of their retirement goal, and many expect to work longer. In Saskatchewan, many employees are living pay cheque to pay cheque, most are not saving enough and economic pessimism is high.

The study reveals that the vast majority of employees are nowhere near reaching their retirement savings goals, and more than one-third (35%) expect to work longer than they had originally planned five years ago, with their average target retirement age rising from 58 to 63 over that period.

Nearly one-quarter (21%) say they’ll now need to work an additional four years or more. “I am not saving enough money” was the top reason for delayed retirement.

Far behind retirement goals

Nationally, three-quarters (76%) of working Canadians say they have put aside a quarter or less of what they will need in retirement (up from an average of 74% over the past three years). In Saskatchewan, the number is 71%. And even among those closer to retirement (50 and older), a disturbing 48% are still less than a quarter of the way to their retirement savings goal.

Not only are employed Canadians finding it difficult to save for their retirement, many think they will need a big nest-egg. Half nationally (and 61% in Saskatchewan) think they will need more than $1 million in savings when they exit the workforce.

Most Canadian employees do not expect their financial situation to get better any time soon. Just 33% nationally and 36% in Saskatchewan expect the economy to improve over the next year. That’s down an average of 8% nationally, and down a noteworthy 24% in Saskatchewan, over the past three years.

Living pay cheque to pay cheque

Nationally, a large proportion (48%) report that it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by a single week. In Saskatchewan, 43% say they are living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Illustrating just how strapped some employees are, 24% nationally and 17% in Saskatchewan report that they probably could not come up with $2,000 if an emergency arose within the next month.

While more employees nationally say they are trying to save more (71% now, up from 66% over the previous three years), fewer are actually able to do so, with 62% succeeding in their savings efforts (down from an average of 66% over the past three years). In Saskatchewan, just 56% are succeeding in their savings efforts (the lowest of all the provinces/regions).

And savings rates continue to be meagre. About half (47%) of employed Canadians are putting away just 5% or less of their pay. In Saskatchewan, the number is 53% (the top province for number of employees who are under-saving for retirement). Financial planning experts generally recommend a retirement savings rate of at least 10% of net pay.

Nationally, 36% of employees (and 38% in Saskatchewan) say they feel overwhelmed by their level of debt.

“Canadians are saying they are having a difficult time making ends meet, and they are not putting enough aside to reach their own retirement goals,” notes Canadian Payroll Association President and CEO, Patrick Culhane. Edna Stack, Canadian Payroll Association Board Chair, explains: “Payroll professionals can help by setting up automatic deductions from an employee’s pay cheque to a savings plan or retirement program. This is the most effective way for an employee to save, so they can get on the path to a more secure financial future.”

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows Canadians with sufficient RRSP contribution room to save up to $2,500/year and transfer in an additional $10,000/year from another RRSP. Members can contribute online using a Visa or MasterCard. SPP contributions can also be made automatically from a member’s bank account.


Oct 19: Best from the blogosphere

October 19, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

One of the ways many of us try to stretch our dollars further is by taking advantage of rewards programs ranging from cash back or travel rewards on credit cards to points cards from your local supermarket or drug store.

I have been a big fan of travel rewards ever since I did a distance Master of Law degree in the UK in the mid 1990s that required me to travel to Europe half a dozen times in two years. But I have a collection of other loyalty cards in my wallet including a punch card from a bakery that rewards me with a free dozen bagels every time I’ve purchased ten dozen in total.

A September 2015 report from Montreal-based Aimia Inc., which operates Aeroplan and other customer-loyalty programs says of the 89% of Canadians enrolled in a loyalty program, 59% have done so with supermarkets, 22% have signed up with banks and 18% with restaurants.

On itbusiness.ca Brian Jackson reported in March 2015 on a research study conducted by Yahoo Inc. The average Canadian has four loyalty program cards in their wallets, the study found. More than half of consumers say they frequently use those cards to accumulate points and miles. Two-thirds of them go online to calculate the value of the loyalty program, and six out of 10 choose loyalty programs that come free-of-charge.

On Robb Engen’s say-so, I replaced my CIBC Aeroplan VISA with a Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard about 18 months ago. This week I was delighted to get an email from the company describing how their program has been enhanced by elimination of the the tiered redemption program and the introduction of partial redemptions. Read all about the changes on RewardsCardsCanada and why with these changes, Capital One has further cemented its status as the best value rewards card for everyday travelers.

If unlike your jet setting neighbours, you travel infrequently, you may be interested in the blog on familyfuncanada.com about the best loyalty programs for infrequent travelers. Helen Early says Airmiles can bring you plenty of rewards. According to Early, the best thing about the Airmiles program is that you can earn points almost anywhere, through activities that you probably already do. She also notes that hotel chains like Faimont, Starwood, Best Western and Hilton offer great deals and discounts for even the lowest tier of members.

Krystal Yee wrote a sponsored post on Give Me Back My Five Bucks about how you can be rewarded for everyday purchases when using your debit card. She reports that while there are very few debit rewards in Canada, Scotiabank offers three.

  • The SCENE Debit Card allows you to earn accelerated points through Cineplex online and in person (5x based on purchases) as well as at a few other select locations including Sport Chek, Milestones and East Side Mario’s. You will also earn one point for every five dollars spent in other locations.
  • With the Moneyback Debit Card you can earn 1% on every purchase you make – up to a maximum of $300 per year. Those that open up an account before October 31st will earn double the rewards – $600 – through to that day.
  • With every purchase made on a ScotiaHockey NHL® debit card, you will be entered to win grand prizes including four 2016 NHL® All-Star Game packages, four 2016 Stanley Cup® Final packages, four 2016 Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off™ packages as well as 45 monthly prizes.

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.


Loyalty programs: Which one is best?

October 16, 2014

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.