Tag Archives: ways to save

Make budgeting a family project

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Think of a realistic budget as the GPS that will help you reach your financial objectives. Unless you know how much money you have available and make a plan to spend less than you earn, paying off debt, saving for a down payment on a house or getting ready for retirement may seem like insurmountable goals.

Budgeting is not rocket science, but it requires discipline. Where you have a partner, both of you should participate in the process. Any children should also be involved to a more limited extent, depending on their ages. If the whole family understands and agrees to budget priorities established by the group, it is more likely that they will follow the roadmap. 

Keys to successful budgeting: 

Some keys to successfully budgeting are:

  1. Understand how much net income your family has every month.
  2. Identify your fixed and variable expenses.
  3. Build debt repayment and savings into your budget.
  4. Establish family priorities.
  5. Develop a plan to control costs as required.
  6. Record all expenditures to help you stay on plan.

Two techniques for staying on plan that money maven Gail Vax Oxlade uses successfully with couples on her television program “Til Debt Do Us Part” are:

  • Cut up debit and credit cards and spend only cash.
  • Allocate the amounts you have available to spend for each category like food, clothes, rent etc. into a series of “jars” for every pay period. 

Getting started

First of all, gather up all your payslips, bills and credit card statements so you have the information you need all in one place. There are lots of online tools that will allow you to enter your data and play around with the numbers until they add up to something that will work for your family.

For example, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada offers an online budget calculator.  Vaz Oxlade has a no-cost guide to building a budget and an interactive online spread sheet available on her website.

There are many other calculators and specialized spreadsheets available online, but I’m a big fan of googledrive. This free application allows you to create an online spreadsheet and give other family members access from different devices.

While you may choose to have only one person enter or delete data, if each person can record money spent on an ongoing basis, anytime someone is contemplating an expenditure, he/she can get a clear picture of the state of the family’s finances. 

Fixed expenses

There are certain unavoidable family expenses that recur on a regular basis. These may include rent or mortgage payments, house insurance, property taxes, utilities, car payments, gas, car insurance, other transportation life insurance etc. You get the picture.

While you could move to less expensive accommodations or take the bus instead of driving if you have to, these expenses cannot be easily reduced in the short term. Therefore, make sure you account for them carefully up front when you are developing your budget.

Food, clothing

Food and clothing are important components of your budget. If you use a credit or debit card for most purchases, it should be fairly easy to track these expenditures over the course of several months. If you use cash, you may have to make a conscious effort to record how much the family spends over a specific period to gain a good understanding of the family’s spending patterns.

Perhaps you eat out frequently and bring home fast food several times a week. This is an area where you may be able to control your costs and at the same time provide more nutritious meals for your family.

Adults can often declare a moratorium on buying clothes for a considerable period. Where growing children need bigger sizes in clothing and shoes, consider clothing swaps of gently used items with family and friends. They are very easy to arrange online. 

Technology 

Land lines, smartphones, internet, cable TV, electronic games, tablets and laptops. You may be shocked to discover how much you spend on technology and connectivity. Contact your service provider and ask for a better deal or a better bundle. Consider getting rid of cable TV and subscribing to Netflix for $7.99/month. Resolve to keep your current technology for longer. And resist the temptation to buy the latest new gadget on the market.

Entertainment/Travel 

Add up how much you spent on entertainment last year. By attending community events instead of buying more expensive tickets to professional theatre or big name sports teams, you can save a bundle and still have a lot of fun.

Rather than spending thousands of dollars on international travel, plan a “staycation” or a long weekend at a local tourist attraction you have been meaning to check out but never got around to visiting. 

Savings 

The money you save for your children’s education or your retirement should not be left to chance if you happen to have enough money around at the end of the month. Build RESP, Saskatchewan Pension Plan, RRSP and TFSA contributions into your budget and “pay yourself” first every time your paycheque is deposited.

Are there free or low cost budget tools that work for you? Have you recently turned your finances around? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
6-June Bringing home baby How to prepare financially for a new baby
13-Jun Fathers Day Frugal gifts your father will love

Cleaning your closets? What to do with the stuff.

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Do you buy new clothes every season and then realize you already have a similar item in your closet? When you are trying a new recipe, do you check the cupboard first to see if you have all the necessary ingredients or do you automatically add them to your shopping list? Are toys your children have outgrown still cluttering up the house?

Cleaning closets and purging are no fun. But every now and then you can no longer avoid the inevitable. And it’s worth it, because you will be able to “reclaim” expensive real estate in your home, save yourself time in the future and even save some money.

However, the biggest problem is often what to do with all the stuff you have excavated from your closets or your basement. Here are some ideas:

  1. Sidewalk recycling: One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In our neighbourhood if you put something on the curb, it will disappear in a few hours. This occurred when we recently got rid of a broken TV and a baby carriage with flat tires.
  2. Recycle Saskatchewan: This website tells you what items can be recycled, where you can take them and gives lots of ideas how items that are still in good condition can be re-used. Also check out the Saskatchewan section of freecycle.org.
  3. Clothing swap: If you have gently used clothing you or your children have grown out of, arrange a family or neighbourhood clothing swap. Everyone brings items they can no longer use and returns home with “new” items to enhance their wardrobe.
  4. Jewelry: If you have gold jewelry you don’t like and you don’t wear, consider cashing it in. The price of gold when I wrote this blog on April 9th was $1611.24 per ounce so depending on what you have it could be a real windfall. I sold some jewelry several years ago and gave the diamond chips to my daughter for her wedding band.
  5. Old cell phones: Donated cell phones are helping to protect battered women in Saskatchewan, thanks to a program called “Phones for a Fresh Start.” So long as the phones are in working order, they can be a valuable lifeline in an emergency.
  6. A garage sale: One sign of spring is the proliferation of garage sales on beautiful weekends. You can put up fliers in the neighbourhood, announce your sale on social media, or post to craigslist or Kijiji.
  7. Sell online: Depending on the nature of the items you want to get rid of, consider selling them online. Here are some great hints about how to sell your items in 24 hours or less on craigslist.
  8. Donate to a charity: Various charities are happy to receive donations. In some cases you may get a charitable receipt. For example, the Saskatchewan Institute of Community Living is a non-profit organization that collects donated clothing and other household items throughout Saskatchewan. All proceeds from the items you donate support individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Have you recently done a massive cleanup in your closets or your basement? How did you get rid of your old stuff and make some extra cash? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

23-May Budgeting How to set up a budget and why
30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
6-June Bringing home baby How to prepare financially for a new baby

10 frugal gifts your mother will love

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Kids grow up and many eventually have the means to shower their Moms with expensive dinners, jewelry and other luxury items.

But if you ask most mothers which Mothers Day gift they treasure the most, they will probably tell you it is the first handmade card thier child brought home from nursery school, or the breakfast in bed delivered at sunrise that she made all by herself.

Here are some ideas for Mother’s Day gifts, in no particular order, that will create happy memories without breaking the bank.

  1. Flowers: Local markets have beautiful displays of cut flowers and plants at this time of year that are much less costly than if they are purchased from a florist. You can also buy bedding plants or a hanging basket for outdoors that will last much longer than an indoor arrangement.
  2. Plant her garden: Many seniors stay in their home as long as possible, but upkeep like planting a garden becomes challenging. Go to a garden centre with your Mom and buy her the plants she likes. Then plant her garden and commit to helping her maintain it through the summer.
  3. Sleep: Parents of young children are perennially sleep deprived. The best thing a husband or parent or sibling of a young Mom can do is give her a voucher for a kid free weekend so she can catch up on her zzzzzzs.
  4. Social media: I live in Toronto and my delicious granddaughter lives in Ottawa. I love that I can see new pictures and videos of her several times a week on Facebook. If your children’s grandmother is not on Facebook, show her how social media will help her stay in closer touch with family. Then set her up and give her a tutorial.
  5. Skype: Long distance phone calls used to be an expensive luxury. Now any two people with a computer can connect on Skype, with the added benefit that they can see each other. If your Mom has friends or family in another city or country and does not already use Skype, get her started and put a balance in her account.
  6. High tea: People are so busy with their daily lives, that often they don’t have time to keep up with friends. Pick a date and invite a group of your mother’s old friends over for tea (or coffee), party sandwiches and cake. Fancy hats are mandatory.
  7. An outing: Whether your mother’s favourite activity is shopping, going to an art gallery or catching a concert, plan a day together doing her favourite things.
  8. A collage: Moms love pictures of their children and extended family. Make and frame a collage of pictures of your children at different ages.
  9. A special dinner: Host a family dinner or barbecue and have everyone share a special memory of life with Mom.
  10. Music: Put together a mixed CD with songs she loves that will bring back memories. You can also include a book of poetry and some handmade chocolates.

Finally, consider an eReader. They are not cheap, but eReaders can more than pay for themselves in convenience over a short time. I just bought a Kobo Glow and re-joined the Toronto Public Library. I love that I can download books free from the library at any time of the day or night and up the font size to easily read at night when my eyes are tired.

Do you have any great ideas for frugal and fun Mother’s Day gifts? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

16-May Spring cleaning How spring cleaning can save you money
23-May Budgeting How to set up a budget and why
30-May Wedding How much should you spend on a wedding gift?

How to plant an inexpensive, maintenance free garden

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Once the snow finally melts and the first tender shoots of green grass poke through the mud, I can’t wait to see beds of beautiful flowers on my street. But a garden can be expensive to plant and maintain unless you know what you are doing.

To give you some tips about putting in an inexpensive, low maintenance garden, we talked to Jill Umpherville, the greenhouse manager and third-generation owner at Dutch Growers Garden Centre in Saskatoon. Here is what she told us.

  1. Do your research: Go to Pinterest and get inspired. Search gardening catalogues and the Internet. Figure out the direction your house faces so you know if it is sunny or shady and you can get plants that fit the area. Come to the garden centre with ideas so the staff knows how best to help you.
  2. When to plant: Don’t plant flowers in Saskatchewan until temperatures at night do not drop below five degrees for about a week. Before that, you may want to put flats of flowers out during the day and bring them in at night to harden them.
  3. Early flowers: Pansies are a cold tolerant plant that you can put in early. But they won’t survive nights where the temperature is below -10, so cover them or put them on a cart and bring them into your garage at night.
  4. First steps: If you want a neat looking flower bed, put in edging. Also add mulch. This will save you time, as beds with mulch don’t have to be weeded.
  5. Prepare the soil: If you live in an area with heavy clay make sure you have a nice base of topsoil. A triple mix of peat moss, top soil and a little bit of manure will provide the soil with nutrients.
  6. Get advice: Depending on your space, you probably need fewer shrubs and bedding plants than you think because they spread.
  7. Hanging baskets: If you have the space to start plants from seed it may be more economical to plant your own hanging baskets. However, with the short growing season in Saskatchewan, buying them already planted will give you instant colour that will last longer.
  8. Perennials: There are dozens of varieties of perennials that do not have to be replaced yearly. For example, Dutch Growers has over 40 varieties of hostas with colours ranging from a bright vibrant green to chartreuse. This plant typically flourishes in the shade. Day lilies are hardy flowering plants that bloom year after year.
  9. Annuals: Inexpensive tried and true annuals are colourful petunias, marigolds, lobelia and impatiens (shade).
  10. Getting value: Look for plants you can lift out of the pot with roots wrapped around the pot. This means the plants are well-rooted. Also look for a deep green colour in the leaves (unless it is a chartreuse plant). This shows the plant is not nutrient deficient. A flowering plant should have additional buds so you know it will bloom right away and all season long.

Are you on a tight budget? Whether you want to spend $25 for a pot of flowers for your condo or thousands to landscape a large property, Umpherville says everybody can have a garden. “Let people at the garden centre know what your budget is. They will help you work within it,” she says.

Sign up today, refer a friend or transfer funds from an RRSP to the SPP before May 21, 2013, and you could win a $500 Dutch growers gift card. You can find the full contest rules here.

Have you started planning your garden yet? Send an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and share your ideas with us. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget
16-May Spring cleaning Cleaning your closets? What to do with stuff
23-May Budget How to set up a budget and why

Why declaring all of your income can save you money

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Have you ever handed your home renovation contractor cash to avoid paying provincial sales tax and GST? Do you accept cash for your in-home daycare services and conveniently “forget” to remit source deductions or claim the income for tax purposes?

If either of these scenarios strikes a chord, chances are you are a participant in the underground economy (UE). A September 2012 Statistics Canada study on the UE in Canada pegs the level of underground activity at $35 billion in 2009.

The UE is any legal business activity that is unreported or under-reported for tax purposes. This can include failing to file returns or omitting an entire business activity, also referred to as “moonlighting” or working “off the books.”

Under-reporting income received, such as “skimming” a portion of business income, bartering, or failing to report a portion of employment income such as tips and gratuities is also included in the UE. The three most significant industry sectors accounting for almost two-thirds of UE activity are construction, retail trade and accommodation/food services.

Why should you care? After all nobody wants any more taxes than they have to.

Well for one thing, paying your taxes is the law. Evading taxes is illegal and can result in criminal convictions leading to fines and jail time in addition to any taxes, interest, and penalties owing.

For example, in December 2012 a Saskatoon man was fined $15,734 for tax evasion for the years 2008 and 2009. He purchased and sold two separate properties for profit and deliberately did not report the income earned from these sources to evade taxes.

In addition, he knowingly failed to report rental income earned from a property, and management fees received from two other renovation projects. The total amount of income found unreported during the years under investigation was $79,195. This resulted in the evasion of federal income tax in the amount of $19,687.

The fine of $15,734 represents 80% of the tax evaded. In addition to the court fines, all outstanding taxes plus penalties and interest must also be paid.

The investigation of tax affairs arose from inconsistencies uncovered during a routine income tax audit which led the CRA to obtain a search warrant and to seize income tax records from the tax evader’s personal residence.

Tax cheating also places an unfair burden on law-abiding businesses and individual taxpayers because overall tax rates must be higher for governments to raise the necessary funds to pay for services.

Businesses that offer lower prices because of their failure to comply with Canada’s tax laws gain an unfair advantage. Tax-cheating employers also gain an unreasonable competitive edge by paying wages under the table in cash, in order to avoid paying the employer portion of employment insurance premiums and Canada Pension Plan contributions. The “knock on effect” is that their employees are eventually deprived of benefits from these important social programs.

Finally, those who avoid paying taxes are taking money that is needed for important investments in schools, hospitals, and other vital government services.  In addition, cash transactions with no written contract or receipt offer no consumer protection and make it difficult for consumers to seek recourse.

Just because you haven’t been caught yet doesn’t mean you won’t be caught in future.

The Canada Revenue Agency has a variety of tools to detect those who do not report all of their income, including on-site visits by officers, information obtained from third-party reporting, leads from other audit files, informants, and indications that taxpayers are living beyond the level of income they report.

If you haven’t declared all of your sales and income in the past, you may be able to correct your information using the CRA’s Voluntary Disclosures Program. If you make a full disclosure before any audit or criminal investigation is started, you may only have to pay the taxes owing plus interest, but not the penalties.

While it may be tempting at times to try and avoid paying some or all of the taxes you, in the long run doing the right thing will actually save you money.

Have you filed your tax return yet? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden
9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget
16-May Spring cleaning How spring cleaning can save you money

How to plan a wedding on a budget

By Sheryl Smolkin

SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK

According to weddingbells.ca, the average expected cost of a wedding in Canada excluding the honeymoon is $22,429 and if you include the honeymoon, the bill increases to $27,899.

Here is the average budget breakdown based on anticipated costs:

Venue $9,255 Limo $753
Honeymoon $5,470 Cake $584
Rings/bands $2,470 Jewellery $483
Photographer $2,206 Hairstylist $467
Bridal Gown $1,847 Guest favours $452
Decor/Florist $1,343 Bridesmaid’s dresses $428
DJ/Musicians $1,247 Stationery $384

Because weddings frequently end up going over budget, the average actual cost of a wedding is $31,110 in Canada.

Even if you have been dreaming of a fancy, traditional wedding since you could walk, that’s an awful lot of money to spend for one day when you are still paying off student loans or saving for a down payment on your first house.

Not everyone can be as frugal as Kerry K. Taylor (aka Squawkfox) who had only four guests and spent $591.12 in total on her wedding to Carl. But Part 1 and Part 2 of her wedding blogs are very entertaining and contain lots of terrific frugal helpful hints.

Here are a few of my suggestions based in part on a great list of Cheap Wedding Tips and Ideas I found online and coloured by my experience helping my daughter plan her wedding several years ago.

Invitations: Engraved invitations with return cards, envelopes and stamps can be very expensive. You can get beautiful paper and envelopes from a stationery store and print your own invitations using a laser printer for a fraction of the cost. You can also create an electronic invitation and have guests RSVP to an email address or a website. 

Venue & food: Look for a free or low cost venue like a community centre or an outdoor setting like a park or beach for a summer wedding. Sometimes it’s cheaper to get married on a week night or have a morning wedding followed by lunch instead of an evening ceremony.

If you can select your own caterer and friends and family are willing to contribute part of the meal, you will save a bundle. Also, try to find a venue that will allow you to get a liquor licence and buy your own beverages instead of paying per drink or per bottle.

But keep in mind that you may have to rent tables, chairs, dishes and even a tent for an unconventional venue. In addition to servers, you will need people to do setup, strike down and cleanup after the party. You may be more than willing to pay for a “wedding package” offered by a hotel or banquet hall that ensures you don’t have to worry about these logistics on your special day.

Rings/bands: Get simple gold or white gold bands. Think of options like coloured or semi-precious stones rather than diamonds. See if there are any family antiques or heirlooms you can incorporate into the design.

Bridal gown: Before you say “yes to the dress” and spend thousands of dollars at a traditional bridal salon, consider other options. Your mother or older sister’s dress may have great sentimental value and it may be possible to alter the dress to fit. It’s worth checking out stores that sell prom dresses or other evening gowns, particularly if you are getting married in a more casual setting like a beach. If you take a sample size, you may find your dream dress at a seasonal sale at a high-end dress store.

And don’t forget pre-owned wedding dresses available online or from The Brides Project, a charity that raises money for cancer.

Bridesmaid dresses: You have to watch the movie 27 dresses  to fully appreciate how hideous bridesmaid dresses can be and remember how much you hated shelling out for the dress you wore to your second cousin’s wedding. Allowing attendants to choose the same colour attire in styles that suit them makes everyone more comfortable. My daughter’s attendants all wore short black dresses they chose themselves with red shoes.

Flowers and decor: Buy seasonal flowers in bulk at a local market.  Display them attractively with tea lights in glass vases you can purchase from the dollar store. For a Christmas wedding poinsettias and dried branches sprayed white can make very effective centerpieces. I am not “crafty” but for those of you who are, there are lots of ideas on Pinterest.

Wedding cake: We decided to substitute a tiered plate of exotic cupcakes for a more traditional wedding cake. They tasted better and, there were only a few left over by the end of the night. 

Photographer: See if you can find a photographer who will take pictures of the wedding and in return for an hourly rate, give you a CD with all of the pictures. You can select the pictures you want to print and even create your own photo books online or using the services of a local camera store. To augment the professional photos, put disposable cameras on every table and ask your guest take pictures throughout the event.

Weddings are emotional occasions that bring out the best and the worst in people. One of the biggest challenges can be paring down the guest list to stay on budget without alienating someone.

You want your wedding to be perfect, but remember it’s just the first day of the rest of your life. You will be off to a much better start if in the early years of your marriage if you don’t have the additional burden of paying off debts for a wedding you couldn’t really afford.

Have you planned a wedding? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and tell us about how you saved money. Your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And don’t forget that the Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers a flexible way to save affordable amounts for retirement.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

25-Apr Taxes Why declating all of your income can save you money
2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden
9-May Mother’s day Mother’s day gifts for every budget

10 tax deductions to remember

By Sheryl Smolkin

SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK
SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK

It seems like filing income tax returns gets more complicated every year. Most of us will be e-filing this year because the Canada Revenue Agency is no longer sending paper forms to every household. But even if you carefully fill in the blanks on an electronic form, it’s easy to miss important deductions or tax credits that will help you to hold on to more of your hard-earned money.

Here is a list of 10 tax deductions and tax credits to remember when you are filing your tax return.

  1. Line 208 – Saskatchewan Pension Plan contributions
    You must have available RRSP room to make an SPP contribution. SPP contributions should be reported on Schedule 7 of your income tax form and claimed on line 208. Both your application and your contribution must be received by SPP before a tax receipt will be issued.SPP contributions will be taken into account in determining RRSP over-contributions. Spousal contributions are permitted and if the contributor has available RRSP room, he or she may contribute and receive a tax deduction for both their personal and their spouse’s account. Spousal attribution rules apply to SPP.
  2. Line 214 – Childcare expenses
    The annual childcare expenses you can deduct depend on the age of your child. For example:

    • For a child born in 2006 and later: $7,000
    • For a child born in 2012 or earlier: $10,000
    • For a child born 1996-2005:            $4,000

    What qualifies as a childcare expense and who can make the claim are discussed in detail on the Information Sheet and Form T778.

  3. Line 215 – Disability supports deduction
    If you have an impairment in physical or mental functions, you can claim a disability supports deduction if you paid expenses that no one has claimed as medical expenses, and you paid them so you could:

    • Be employed or carry on a business (either alone or as an active partner).
    • Do research or similar work for which you received a grant; or
    • Attend a designated educational institution or a secondary school where you were enrolled in an educational program.

    You cannot claim amounts that were reimbursed by a non-taxable payment such as insurance. Expenses must be claimed in the same year they are paid.

  4. Line 301 – Age amount
    You can claim this amount if you were 65 years of age or older on December 31, 2012, and your net income is less than $78,684. If your net income was:

    • $33,884 or less, you can claim $6,720.
    • More than $33,884, but less than $78,684, complete the chart for line 301 on the Federal Worksheet to calculate your claim.

    Don’t forget to also claim the corresponding provincial tax credit.

  5. Line 319 –  Interest paid on your student loan
    You may be eligible to claim an amount for the interest paid on your student loan in 2012 or the preceding five years for post-secondary education if you received it under:

    • The Canada Student Loans Act.
    • The Canada Student Financial Assistance Act; or
    • A similar provincial or territorial government law.
  6. Line 324 – Tuition, education, and textbook amounts transferred from a child
    The maximum tuition, education, and textbook amount transferred from a child (or from each child), is $5,000 minus the amounts that he or she uses, even if there is still an unclaimed part. Tuition, education, and textbook amounts that the student carried forward from a previous year cannot be transferred. Only one person can claim this transfer from the student. However, it does not have to be the same parent or grandparent that claims the student as a dependant.
  7. Line 330 – Medical expenses
    You can claim on line 330 the total eligible medical expenses you or your spouse or common-law partner paid for:

    • Yourself.
    • Your spouse or common-law partner; and
    • Your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child born in 1995 or later.

    The amount you can claim is the lesser of:

    • 3% of your net income; or
    • $2,109.

    To maximize this claim, it should be deducted by the spouse with the lower income.

  8. Line 331 – Allowable amount of medical expenses for other dependants
    Claim on line 331 the part of eligible medical expenses you or your spouse or common-law partner paid for the following persons who depended on you for support:

    • Your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child who was born in 1994 or earlier, or grandchild; or
    • Your or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s parent, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew who was a resident of Canada at any time in the year.
  9. Line 365 – Children’s fitness amount
    You can claim to a maximum of $500 per child, the fees paid in 2012 relating to the cost of registration or membership for your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child in a prescribed program of physical activity.
  10. Line 370 – Children’s arts amount
    You can claim to a maximum of $500 per child the fees paid in 2012 relating to the cost of registration or membership of your child or your spouse’s or common-law partner’s child in a prescribed program of artistic, cultural, recreational, or developmental activity.

Have you filed your taxes already? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and tell us about other valuable tax deductions we may have missed. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

18-Apr Wedding How to beat the high cost of weddings
25-Apr Taxes Why you should file your tax return on time
2-May Gardening Cheapest ways to plant a maintenance-free garden

New house vs resale? Which should you choose?

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK

SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK

After renovating an old house and then buying a new house in the suburbs, we think we finally got it right with our current home which is close to the Finch subway station in Toronto.

Over 10 years ago, the builder assembled three large lots with small bungalows, tore them down and built five new two-story detached homes. We got the end unit surrounded by a park. We have an energy efficient furnace, the house is fully wired for Internet and it was a lovely blank, clean canvas to decorate.

I thoroughly enjoy working at home in my cheerful, bright office. When I do have to go downtown for meetings in off peak hours, I walk to the subway in five minutes and I always get a seat.

But whether to buy a new house or a resale is a very personal decision. Here are a few of the things you should consider before making up your mind.

Location:

If you want to live in a built up neighbourhood, close to public transportation you will generally opt for a resale home. Unless you can get an infill house in an old neighbourhood, new homes tend to be in a suburban area which can mean a longer daily commute.

Cost:

In a new development you will typically get more house for your money. But depending where you work, you also have to figure in the cost, wear and tear of a longer commute. Furthermore, resale homes generally already have paved driveways, fences, decks and landscaping which you will have to shell out for on top of the initial purchase price of a new home. Proximity of local schools and other services may also influence your decision.

Layout:

Older homes often have traditional layouts. It may be possible to add another bedroom, an ensuite bathroom, an upgraded kitchen or a main floor family room.  However, renovating can be hard on both your nerves and your wallet.

When you buy a home from the plans, you can select the layout you prefer and in some cases you can even customize. You also get to chose from a broad selection of paint colours, kitchen cabinets, counter tops, carpet and flooring.

Energy efficiency:

Newly constructed homes are typically better insulated and have double or triple glazed windows which will save you money on heating and cooling costs. They also generally come with a high energy furnace and new more efficient appliances.

Maintenance:

Upkeep for an older home can be more expensive because of older appliances, plumbing and electrical systems. You may need a new roof or a new furnace sooner than you think. Old windows and inadequate insulation can drive up heating bills. In contrast, every new home in Saskatchewan is covered by the New Home Warranty Program.

What I’m hoping is that someone will decide to build new, affordable infill bungalows close by so for the next chapter we can have the best of all worlds – a new home on one floor in an established neighbourhood that is also accessible to public transit.

And the icing on the cake would be if our wonderful neighbours keep their promise to buy the house next door.

Have you bought or sold a house lately? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and tell us whether you bought a new or resale house and why. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

11-Apr Taxes 10 tax deductions you might miss
18-Apr Wedding How to beat the high cost of weddings
25-Apr Taxes Why you should file your tax return on time

How to choose an eReader

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

On a recent 10 day trip to California I read an 800 page book using the Kobo app on my PlayBook. I agree with journalist and technology expert Marc Saltzman that electronic books have many advantages. For example:

  1. I can store hundreds of books on small device.
  2. I can buy books 24/7 as long as there is wifi and they are generally cheaper than hard copy.
  3. I can download library books and there are no late fees because they automatically expire after a certain date.
  4. I can adjust the font style and size, and click on hyperlinks to get definitions of words and other background information.
  5. Music and audiobooks are also available on some models.

However, the battery on my tablet only lasted about six hours before it had to be recharged. As a result, I’m looking for a lighter digital reader with a longer battery life to take on future trips to Eastern Europe and the Far East.

So I asked Saltzman for some hints about what I should look for. Here’s what he told me:

Q. Who are the major players in the Canadian eReader market?

A. I would say Kindle, Kobo and Sony.  They each have a line of products ranging from an entry level bare bones eReader up to something more sophisticated with colour and apps that acts a little bit more like a tablet computer. Kindle has the largest library but you have to purchase Kindles from the U.S. and they are the only one of the three that won’t let you borrow books from the public library.

Q. What questions should consumers ask if they are considering an eReader purchase?

A. I first ask people whether they are looking for a straightforward device for reading books or if they want something with colour that will allow them to surf the web, play games or read email. That’s when you go for the higher end eReaders that are more like a tablet computer.

If all you want is to read books, then look for a black and white touch screen wifi eReader that costs between $60 and $120. Once you start adding things like cellular connectivity (only offered by Kindle) then you will pay $200 or more for better screens, larger screens, colour screens and app stores.

Q. How does battery life stack up?

A. The Kindle Paperwhite is the eReader with the longest battery life – about two months on a single charge. The Sony and Kobo last about a month depending on usage. More advanced tablets with backlit screens max out at about 10 hours. They are also heavier.

I prefer my iPad mini with the Kobo and Kindle apps because I have everything I need on it when I travel to meetings. I can leave my computer in the hotel.

Q. What about downloading library books?

A. Both Kobo and Sony let you do that. What is required is a personal computer, some free Adobe software, and your library card. You go to your local library’s website, and if they offer eBooks, you sign on with your library card number and then it will walk you through the software you need.

Then you reserve books in advance like you would at your local library, and when the book is available, you download it to your computer. The next step is to tether your eReader to your PC or Mac with the USB cable in the box, and it copies the book over to the mobile device. On the day it expires you will no longer be able to access  the digital book unless you can renew it in advance.

Q. Do any of the ebook readers allow you to share books with other people on their eReaders?

A. That’s one of the downsides of an eBook. You can’t share them. It’s intangible so  you can’t put it on a bookshelf or give an autographed copy to someone as a gift. In the U.S. Kindle has something called the Kindle Lending Library, but it is not available in Canada.

Q. What’s next, what’s on the horizon for eBooks?

A. I think more and more of them are going to have tablet features. The line is going to blur between an eReader and a tablet. Even entry level eReaders are going to have a lot more capabilities. We’ll see faster wireless connectivity, more storage and more people subscribing to electronic newspapers and magazines. And down the road they are going to be thinner, lighter and even roll-able.

So that’s the skinny on eReaders from one Canada’s top experts. You can see a comparison of prices and features for four different Kobo models here.

Have you purchased an eReader or tablet computer lately? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com and tell us what you like and don’t like about your device. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

04-Apr Real estate New or resale house? Pros and cons
11-Apr Taxes 10 tax deductions you might miss
18-Apr Wedding How to beat the high cost of weddings

How to save money on home, auto insurance

By Sheryl Smolkin

Shutterstock.com
Shutterstock.com

Nobody likes paying for home or automobile insurance. But you can’t get a mortgage or drive a car without it. And if you are involved in an accident or a natural disaster your insurance company will suddenly become your best friend.

But insurance premiums are going up all the time and there is no reason why you should pay anymore than you have to. Recently the insurance rating website InsurEye put together a comprehensive list of “101 tips on how to save money on insurance.”

Some of the more obvious, general suggestions are:

  • Shop around online and on the telephone.
  • Bundle home and auto insurance with the same carrier.
  • If you are a member of an association (i.e. professional engineers) or an alumni group there may be a deal for members.
  • Staying with one insurer longer may result in loyalty discounts.

However, the list also includes some unusual money-saving options which were news to me. Here are some of my favourite.

Auto insurance

  1. Welcome discount: Some insurers offer a welcome discount just for becoming a customer. E.g. five per cent at Grey Power.
  2. Rental car rider: If your existing auto insurance policy does not cover rental cars, you can often add it as a rider (policy extension) for $20-$30/year. Compared to the $20/day you might pay when renting a car, it’s not a bad deal.
  3. Dashboard camera: Get a dashboard camera for your vehicle. Insurance companies do not offer any premium discount related to dashboard cameras, but it can help you prove you are not at fault if you have an accident.
  4. Claims history: Keeping a clean claims history may make more sense than submitting claims for small damage repairs that could result in increased premiums. Contact your insurance provider/broker before you decide whether or not to claim for minor property damage.
  5. Good students: Students with good grades may be eligible for a break on car insurance rates. For example, the State Farm good student discount rewards student who are younger than 25 with a discount of 25% if they have a B average or better.
  6. Short distance to work: If you are located close to work, the distance you need to drive is short or you may not have to drive at all. The further you have to drive to work, the higher your premiums.

Home insurance

  1. Valuing your contents: If you are renting an apartment or condo and you only have a laptop and some IKEA furniture you may not need hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of coverage. Check the policy to see what you are paying for.
  2. Mortgage free home: When you have paid off your mortgage, some insurers will reward you with lower premiums. This one was news to me and I am now looking into discharging my mortgage.
  3. Heating: Insurers like forced-air gas furnaces or electric heating. If you have an oil-heated home, you might be paying more than your peers who have alternative heating sources.
  4. Stability of residence: Some insurance companies will offer a stability of residence discount if you have lived at the same address for a certain number of years.
  5. Dependent students: Some insurers will cover dependent students living in their own apartment under their parents’ home insurance policy at no additional charge.
  6. Credit scores: Some insurers factor in credit scores when calculating home insurance premiums. If you have a good credit rating your rates will be lower.

These are only a few of the tips. However, the list also includes some interesting ways to keep down premiums for life insurance, travel insurance and credit card protection.

Some of these ideas are more practical than others, but every little bit helps.

Have you saved money on insurance lately? Send us an email to socialmedia@saskpension.com. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

28-Mar Books Comparing eReaders
04-Apr Real estate New or resale house? Pros and cons
11-Apr Taxes 10 tax deductions you might miss

Also see:

Car insurance: 10 things you need to know 

Does your home insurance cover storm damage?