What 3 Saskatchewan Businesses Learned From Navigating COVID-19

To say that this past year has led to financial uncertainty for many businesses and individuals would be an immense understatement. We virtually sat down with three local Saskatchewan businesses (22Fresh, Zu and Stone’s Throw) to learn how they are navigating COVID-19 and what they’ve learned through it all. After all, understanding your finances is the first step to gaining financial confidence and taking back control. 


A lot of stigma exists around talking about finances, specifically financial struggle. In fact, in a recent study we conducted, 63% of Saskatchewanians (it’s a technical term) say they aren’t comfortable talking about money with friends, family or co-workers. This past year disrupted everything we thought we knew leading to financial uncertainty for many. During times of struggle is when we need to rely on the support of others most, but this often isn’t the case with financial struggleIn the same study, we found that 29% of individuals say they find it embarrassing to ask for help with their finances which further enables the stigma.  

Before we jump in, I first want to introduce you to these three amazing businesses and their leaders: 

  1. Kip Simon, President & CEO of 22Fresh, a branded clothing and apparel manufacturer based in Saskatchewan.
  2. Albert Jame, Strategy Director of Zu, a Saskatoon based digital consultancy company focused on tech innovation and digital solutions.
  3. Kim Zacaruk, Owner of Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective, a local Regina coffee shop and café (or how Kim put it: “WHAT we do is community, kindness and making people feel welcome and part of something; coffee and food is just HOW we do that.”) 

At first glance, you might think these businesses have nothing in common, but when I sat down to talk with each of them I found there were a lot of similarities. No, not in the products they sell or services they offer, but in their experiences, emotions and fears of navigating uncertainty and how they responded. We took what we heard from each of them – the challenges, stories of resilience, learnings and success, and summarized it into four things you should know during times of financial certainty. Let’s get into it! 

Keep track of your money

Budgeting is a great tool for keeping track of your money. It empowers you to be in control by guiding your spending so you can understand where your money is coming and going. In times of financial uncertainty, this is especially important because where your money was once coming and going from may not be true anymore.  

 This was the case for 22Fresh:   

 “Right off the bat we knew we were going to be losing a few streams of revenue, so it was a matter of how we are going to survive off just one stream,” said Kip. Much of their business relied on wholesaling products to local storesmany of which were now closing, and custom team apparel, which was also no longer happeningThis meant a lot of budgeting and going over different scenarios to understand what they might look like two or three months down the road 

Kip continues, “… we had to pay attention not on a month-to-month basis, but day-to-day in order to weather this storm. But, if there is a silver lining, it was forcing us to get out of cruise control and really start doing a deep dive into our expenses, cost of goods sold and what amount of revenue we can survive off of in our current landscape.”

Minimize your expenses as much as possible

This can be easier said than done and often means the “fun stuff” gets put aside. However, COVID-19 made some of the decisions easier on us. With social gatherings restrictedthis meant saved costs from no events or parties (especially the ones we didn’t even want to go to in the first place). With people working from home, some businesses were able to save on operational costs of office spaces and are now realizing maybe they don’t need office space at all anymore.  

When we think about how this translates into personal finances, the decisions become a little more difficult. Albert shared perspective that really hit home for me, which was that we all need to learn to “accept our finances and love the things we have.”  

COVID-19 forced us to slow down, which although difficult, had positive impacts. When we are moving at full speed all the time, we don’t necessarily take the time to stop and think. This leads to impulse shopping and over-consumption. I like buying clothes (okay, I LOVE buying clothes) but our new reality has helped me realize that I often buy things just to buy them and not because I need them.  

So, I want to challenge you to stop and think: “Where could I minimize my expenses?” Take five minutes (after reading this blog, of course) and jot down 3-5 things you currently spend money on that you could likely live without. I challenge you to go one month without buying these things and see if this was a need or a habitual want. You might be surprised with your results! 

Don’t forget to focus on your mental well-being

COVID-19 disrupted our lives in many ways, both personally and professionally. Kip mentioned “I never had to think so deeply about whether or not this was the end of our company” which was likely the case for many other businesses. On top of the stress of trying to keep your business afloat, many people were working from home while also trying to homeschool or care for kids and were feeling isolated and anxious about not connecting with people in the ways we were used to. Heavy stuff. 

Kim shared “Our 24-year-old daughter had just moved to New Zealand and couldn’t get home. My parents were in the United States and I felt (and still do) a huge responsibility to staff and public safety, both physically and mentally and I wanted to lead with kindness and empathy.”  

That is a lot for one person to carry alone. A common response I heard from all three businesses was the importance of leaning on others for support: “It’s impossible to be everything, and there is no shame in reaching out and asking for help.” said Kip. It’s important to recognize what your strengths are and when you need to rely on the strengths and experience of others 

Build good financial habits

 It’s never too early or too late to start. As humans we seek gratification, but when building new habits, we don’t get gratification right away.” said Albert. “It’s progress and progress often looks like a bunch of little failures overtime, until one day when we get it right. But what’s important is that you start.” Ain’t that the truth.  

But building good financial habits starts with understanding. “It really is amazing if you take the time to dig in to understand your finances.” said Kip. For Kim and her team at Stone’s Throw, they have also learned a lot from their internal introspection: “We now have a better idea of revenue levels, customer eating and drinking habits, traffic patterns, and where we can save time to focus on other things.”  

Being comfortable is a scary place to be. Understanding and staying on top of your finances is what can make all the difference during challenging time. “Keep it simple, educate yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help” says Albert.  

Let’s talk

Understanding your finances is so much more than just knowing your income and expenses. It’s messy. There are emotions intertwined with every decision because it impacts our relationships. Now throw in a pandemic and it just became a whole lot messier. If there is one message you take from reading this blog, let it be this – start talking. Kip, Kim and Albert all made mention about the positive impact that asking for help and talking about their financial stress had on them. We all have our differences but this past year has taught us that we’re stronger together and are united by this shared struggle of the pandemic. Share your experiences, talk about money with your kids, ask for help from your financial advisor and don’t be afraid to rely on the support of others When you do this, it opens the door to understanding and taking the first step to improving your financial well-being.  

Travelling on a budget and getting more than I bargained for

Guest blog alert! This year’s Saskatchewander, Leah Mertz, has travelled all across the province during a challenging year and has picked up some travel tips along the way. From spending and budgeting tips to the best spots in Saskatchewan to check out, Leah has some great advice for what to check out in the province’s own backyard (when it is safe to do so) and how to save some coin while doing it. 

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Hi, I’m Leah!

For the past 10 years, the Government of Saskatchewan has selected a ‘Saskatchewanderer’ to explore the province—showcasing its hidden gems and best kept secrets. To my surprise and excitement, I became the 2020 Wanderer after applying last fall. But within weeks of being on the job, things quickly shifted as the pandemic took hold. However, my determination to see Saskatchewan remained. With Conexus as the program’s new title sponsor, I became more motivated than ever to find ways of keeping travel affordable during uncertain times.

Where it began…

Growing up on a farm, times were busy. My father was a poultry farmer, and as all keepers of livestock know, there’s usually very few days off in a year—if at all. That’s why every summer, I couldn’t wait for our annual road trip. Each year in August, he would leave the farm in good hands for 10 days, and my family would pile into our Ford Aerostar for our next adventure.

As a kid, vacations almost seemed like a fantasy. There’s very little concept of time as the days become full of swimming, ice cream, bike riding, games, and… more ice cream. You don’t have to worry about paying for accommodations or gas, preparing or finding meals, and driving long hours with impatient kids in the back seat. I look back on our annual family vacation and wonder how exactly my parents kept their sanity. It’s a lot to manage! My siblings and I would have the best time without a care in the world. As an adult, it’s sobering to realize how hard my parents worked to not only afford taking time away from the farm, but also keeping costs at a minimum while on vacation.

Fast forward to 2020

Since becoming the Wanderer, I’ve found myself in charge of planning and executing the largest road trip of my life. I’ll admit, it’s been very challenging and I’ve been reminded of my parents’ hard work every step of the way. However, seeing so many beautiful places (Cypress Hills, Greig Lake, Castle Butte, etc.) and meeting dozens of wonderful people has helped put me at ease.

In the past few months, I’ve learned some hard and fast lessons surrounding money. Here are a few things that have helped me cut excess costs, save in unexpected places, and keep morale high while traveling in high-stress times.

Reusable anything keeps money in your pocket

Two reusable items I’ll never leave home without are a water bottle and a microwavable container. I’ll always fill up my water bottle at a hotel and therefore eliminate the urge to buy one when I stop for gas. Since I’ve been eating out on the road a lot, more often than not a takeaway container isn’t microwavable. Nearly every accommodation will have a microwave and since I started bringing my own container, I’ve never let my leftovers go to waste. We all know how generous Saskatchewan restaurants can be with their portions so on many occasions I’ve happily turned one supper into two—the enormous Perogy Poutine from the Black Grasshopper in Estevan comes to mind!

Preparedness pays off

This may seem like a no-brainer, but unexpected expenses can add up when traveling. Make a packing list before your trip and include everything you could possibly need. Early in the year, I would forget something simple, end up buying it, and then immediately regret it when I returned home to find it sitting in my drawer. I’ve unnecessarily spent hundreds of dollars on duplicates like: sunscreen, bug spray, gloves, hair ties, tweezers, vitamins, and even flip flops for the hotel pool. Plus, if you have to pick something up at a gas station or a convenience store, products like Advil or chapstick have a higher markup compared to where you’d purchase them otherwise. Convenience can be costly.

Oh, and speaking of pools, the Residence Inn in Regina has one of the fastest waterslides I’ve ever been on. Seriously, I might have experienced some g-force on that thing.

Score with loyalty points

Many food chains, and even local establishments have their own loyalty programs that allow you to earn free food, discounted prices, and more. Thankfully our smartphones conveniently allow us to store our loyalty numbers or barcodes. I used to absolutely hate keeping track of loyalty cards, but now that I can have them in my phone or through an app, I’m all in. I won’t admit how many free coffees I’ve scored this year from a certain green mermaid, but I will tell you that she’s been very kind to me. Also, I’ve kept loyalty points with every hotel I stay at, and in a matter of months have earned my way to free nights, higher loyalty point accumulation, and guaranteed late checkouts. Doesn’t get any better!

Keep tabs on your data

On some of my early trips, I was on Google Maps non-stop and endlessly streaming music and podcasts while on the road. I quickly noticed my cell phone data was going over and incurring extra charges. Now, I’ve been diligent in trying to download music, podcasts, and even map directions to my phone while I have Wi-Fi. It took one egregious cell phone bill at the beginning of my Wanderer term for me to be more mindful of data usage while out and about.

Seeing the best of Saskatchewan

With those money saving tips in mind, here is my unofficial list of the best places I’ve been in 2020!

Best food: Just Chicken in Kindersley. Think chicken tenders but like schnitzel. They have some of the best side dishes I’ve ever had—candied bacon, homemade slaw, fry bread, and more.

Best accommodation: The Resort at Cypress Hills. When a fresh blanket of snow falls, it’s a magical winter wonderland with tons of things to do. You can go cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or cozy up by the fireplace in the lodge.

Best trail: Sunset Interpretive Trail in Douglas Provincial Park. This is a beginner level trail that all can enjoy. Halfway into the loop you’ll have one of the best views for a classic Saskatchewan sunset. It’s simply stunning looking out over Lake Diefenbaker as the waves crash against the shoreline below.

Best campground: Anderson Point in Great Blue Heron Provincial Park. With plenty of walking trails and a secluded beach, this area truly feels off the grid while still being close to the amenities of Christopher Lake. Many locals have expressed that this is their favourite place to spend winter too. I hope to return before the year is over!

Best coffee shop: Route 26 in St. Walburg. This place has probably one of the most immersive ambiences I’ve ever experienced. It’s in an old character house adorned with hundreds of nostalgic artifacts. Outside there are plenty of picturesque places to sit as you hear classic country tunes playing in the background.

Best sightseeing spot: Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. The rolling hills of the southwest truly look incredible anytime of year. Once you drive down into the valley, you’ll have a 360-degree view of some of the finest natural wonders in Saskatchewan.

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What I Learned From My 90 Day Spending Freeze

We’ve all heard of “cleanses” or “detoxes”. Although traditionally meant for weight loss or breaks from social media, spending freezes are gaining popularity as a means to cut spending and flush out bad money habits. Here’s a personal story where one of our writers was forced to check herself before debting herself and what she learned from a 90-day spending freeze.


Setting the Scene

Earlier this year, before COVID-19 entered the Canadian news cycle and Taylor Swift released her Folklore album, I put myself on a 90-day spending freeze.

Let’s go back to December. I received an email from the corporate payroll team, “SUBJECT: Important – Response Required – Pension Enrollment Form.

I guess I forgot I would start contributing to the employee pension program after my first year of employment. I was already saving for retirement and contributing 5% of my net income to my RRSP every pay period.

Hot Tip: If you’re entering the job market or changing careers, consider if an employee pension program is offered in the compensation package. If you’re comfortable with accepting a compensation package that doesn’t include an employee pension program, you can create your own “DIY pension program”. Have a conversation with a financial advisor, or someone you trust, to choose a retirement savings plan that works for you and build scheduled contributions into your budget that come directly from your paycheck.

Time to Freeze

I’m a single income earner, so saving more for retirement through the employee pension program meant my household income would be shrinking.

I knew that I could adjust my budget in real time to manage my cost of living with a lower net income, but without knowing how to adjust my budget to spend less, I could easily fall into a cycle of spending more than I was earning. You can’t lie to yourself and have healthy money habits.  I chose to enter a 90-day spending freeze, starting on January 1.

“Like, you didn’t spend any money at all?”

I set very specific criteria for this spending freeze. It was an ambitious goal, like Taylor Swift’s cross-over from country music to pop music. It had to be calculated and fearless.

The purpose of the spending freeze wasn’t to deprive myself or to remove joy from my life but to understand how to protect two healthy money habits I practice: 1) not spending more than I was earning, and 2) contributing to emergency savings, long-term savings, and saving for retirement. My mission was to  reveal how I needed to adjust my budget to spend less, with a lower income.

The most common reasons people aren’t successful in budgeting is because they haven’t built a realistic budget or they aren’t committed long enough for it to become a money habit. I made a deal with myself that I was in this for the long haul and would track every receipt and be disciplined for the full 90 days. I was already a budgeter before I started the spending freeze, but if you’re not a budgeter, that’s an important foundation to start with. I track every receipt and enter it into my budget, and during the spending freeze it showed me how much money I wasn’t spending. You need to see how you’re spending your money to know how much you’re saving or not spending during a spending freeze.

I began by considering all the things that I valued most from my lifestyle that was discretionary spending and excluded those categories from my spending freeze. For instance, I didn’t even consider freezing my fitness membership. I like the accountability my barre studio puts on me to hold a plank for a minute longer and that doesn’t translate to home workouts for me.

I froze spending money on restaurants and food deliveries, unless it centered around an experience with friends. The relationships in my life are important to me, so I was intentional about which invitations to accept and which invitations to decline knowing that it’s hard to go out with someone and not spend money. For example, when my friend was going through a difficult time in her life, I arrived at her house with pizza and wine. But when I was starving on my way home from my barre class, I didn’t give into ordering food and would make something at home.

What I removed from my budget during my spending freeze:

  • Clothing (I’m a big shopper so this was an accomplishment for me!)
  • Housewares
  • Alcohol
  • Tickets to entertainment
  • Travel
  • Spa & Salon experiences
  • Personal care items that I didn’t already use.

What I kept in my budget during my spending freeze:

  • Fitness membership
  • Personal care items (ie: lipstick) but ONLY if I was replenishing a product I already use
  • Gifts for others
  • Streaming subscriptions (ie: Netflix, Amazon Prime)
  • Cable subscription
  • The routinely scheduled hair cut & color I get quarterly, but no other spa and salon experiences
  • Massages, supplemented by my benefits coverage

What I Learned…

I began the spending freeze on January 1 and retail stores and restaurants closed in mid March when the State of Emergency was declared in Saskatchewan so I made it 77 days on my own without stepping foot in HomeSense. Even without the option of entering a store, I wasn’t in the clear because the convenience of online shopping can still tempt you – especially when you are cooped up in your home with nothing else to do. There were some close calls but I made it the full 90 days without spending money outside of the criteria I listed above. Outside of cutting my spending by 10%, I was able to nail down realistic goals for my budget categories knowing what I could and could not live without. Thanks to this 90 day cleanse, I have eliminated any sort of excuses to pad my budgets for categories like eating out or shopping because I know I’ve done it before. It’s amazing how much money you can save with a little confidence in yourself and the discipline to make it happen.

If you need help starting your own budget or want to see for yourself how much cutting your spending will impact your income, check out Conexus’ budget calculator tool!

What else did I learn from a 90-day spending freeze?

  1. You do not need to deprive yourself to practice healthy money habits.
  2. Avoiding the stores where you commonly spend money is way easier than visiting those stores and trying to limit yourself to one purchase.
  3. Choosing not to browse online or in-store completely removed the temptation to spend money. A lot of the time you are shopping for a distraction so if you are watching a TV show and your mind gets antsy, pick up a book or grab a paper and pen to doodle to keep it occupied.
  4. Talk about money! I was open about challenging myself to a 90-day spending freeze and so many others responded by sharing their money goals. We celebrated, leaned on each other as accountability partners and learned from each other along the way.
  5. Spending less than I earn felt so much more satisfying than abandoning my budget to buy whatever Jillian Harris is promoting on Instagram.

What else do you want to know about my spending freeze that I didn’t answer in the blog? Ask your questions in the comment section below! Let’s break the myth that it’s impolite to talk about money! Let’s learn from each other and celebrate each other’s healthy money habits.

How COVID-19 Affected My Wedding Day

Uncertainty, frustration, sadness – not the things I was expecting to feel in the months leading up to my wedding and not something that was stopping me from becoming Bridezilla. Unfortunately, COVID-19 took the decision out of my hands and I was forced to let go of the wedding vision I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. Read on to find out how I managed my stress levels, changed plans (sometimes on the fly), managed the fluctuating budget and ended up having an amazing wedding day during COVID-19. 


You know what they say about the best laid plans…

I got engaged at the end August 2019 and to say I was excited to plan the wedding is an understatement. Not only do I love to plan things, but like most women, I’d been thinking about my wedding day for years and had more than one Pinterest board all queued up and ready to go. My new fiancé asked me to marry him and then promptly left for three weeks to work up in northern Saskatchewan – great timing, I know. Fortunately, this gave me the perfect opportunity to plan the whole wedding. I created our wedding website, booked the majority of our vendors, chose a date (I did consult with him on this part), booked a venue, lined up my bridesmaids, started dress shopping and let the people know who were traveling when they needed to be here. We were going to be married in Regina at the Wascana Country Club on June 13, 2020. In the next few months, I ordered my dress, chose the bridesmaid dresses and got all of the invitations sent out. Things were cruising along really well. I was buying everything in advance so that we were ready and so we could sit back and not have much stress in the months leading up to our wedding day. Queue the global crisis…

Who needs pre-marital counseling when you have a pandemic

When we first heard about the coronavirus, I initially thought it wouldn’t affect us or our special day. Then the borders closed, the cases started to rise, and we were both home – 100% of the time. During those few months, we were able to work through and talk about a lot of things. To say the stress levels were high would be an understatement, but we really focused on making decisions together and keeping open lines of communication. Except for the part where I unanimously made the decision to push our wedding reception a year, including all of our vendors, and then told him after the fact.

“Sorry honey”.

Vendors, deposits and budgets, oh my!

I was very fortunate that we didn’t lose any money when we chose to change our wedding plans and we were able to simply shift everything by one year. This meant that all of that planning I had done wasn’t going to go to waste. I did hear about a lot of people that made the decision to cancel their wedding and lost money and I feel for them. It’s always a great idea to create a wedding budget and stick to it because weddings are expensive and it’s easy to go into serious debt in the planning and spending, especially when you go to wedding expos and see what others are doing. But one thing you can’t budget or plan for is when you end up losing your deposits and that can make a stressful time much worse. I’m not going to go into the debate of signed contracts, non-refundable deposits and whether or not a pandemic that is out of your control is grounds for a deposit return, however, I will say that every single one of my vendors was very easy to work with and they, and their businesses, were feeling the financial burdens and uncertainty we all were.

If you are currently in the position of deciding whether to postpone and are afraid to have the conversation with your vendors – I highly recommend just ripping off the band-aid. Although we are all feeling the financial burden of the global pandemic, these businesses survive on positive word-of-mouth and referrals and many will deliver on good customer service in order to win your endorsement. They will understand and the sooner you let them know – the more flexible they can be.

So what did we do?

Well, I am now a Mrs., and our wedding picture is at the top of this blog, so we did get married June 13. We chose to get married at my parents’ lake house with those of our bridal party that could attend and my parents’ best friends (limited numbers made it easy to cut down the guest list). The biggest thing we learned is that missing out on many of the material things did not make the day any less memorable or perfect. Although we had to shift our initial vision of what the day was going to look like. at the end of the day I was able to get married to a wonderful man surrounded by love and even those far away were able to be part of it via live steam – and that, I wouldn’t change for anything. We are going to have a reception next June (fingers crossed) and we will be able to celebrate with everyone at that time.

Tips for getting married during COVID-19 (or any pandemic)

  1. Breathe – you can do this. It may feel like it, but it’s not the end of the world (hopefully). Plans will change and you will have to be agile and flexible, but I believe in you.
  2. Lean on others – there are lots of others going through the same things and you can get lots of tips from them. Talk to your family and your future spouse, they want to be there for you and help you through this.
  3. Take time to pause and process what you’ve lost – at the end of the day, it’s sad when your sister and best friend literally cannot come to your wedding because it means traveling or your grandma can’t attend because it’s too dangerous. It’s important to take a minute to just say “this sucks”, maybe yell or throw things or go find a batting cage or hit some golf balls. Whatever it is, let yourself feel the loss.
  4. Don’t dwell on what can’t be – you will drive yourself crazy focusing on all the things you can’t have and your wedding will be overshadowed by sadness rather than being a celebration of love and happiness.
  5. Decide what you need and what you can do without – whether you are going ahead with a paired down version of your wedding or moving it to next year, decide what things you can’t do without and what you can. The same goes for guests.
  6. Look for ways to include those who can’t be there – for us, it was live streaming the wedding, calling people after the ceremony and FaceTiming my sister from Australia for the entire dinner and speeches. Best part, all of that was free.
  7. Stick to your budget – there is a good chance you may lose some deposits if you decide not to postpone or reschedule and that will have a huge impact on your budget. If you decide, like us, to have a wedding now and a reception in the future, you need to decide if your wedding budget will remain the same or if you are going to create a different one for each event and that may mean more money is going to be spent. Either way, make your budget and stick to it.
  8. Talk to your vendors – regardless if you are postponing or going ahead, keep in contact with your vendors. They are probably wondering, just like you, what’s going on. Be patient with them as well – they didn’t plan for COVID-19 either and are going to be a lot more willing to work with you to find a solution if you don’t go bridezilla on them.
  9. Make it a memorable day – no matter what, it’s still your wedding day and you need to make it about you and your future spouse. Find ways to keep the day about you and not the pandemic and what you’ve lost.
  10. Don’t let people call you a COVID bride – COVID-19 may have forced you to change your plans, but it’s not what should define your wedding. Unless that is your theme, then you do you.

COVID-19 Blew Up My Budget & How I Pivoted

Adjusting a professional budget or a personal budget due to financial strain is never fun but can save you a lot of worry by putting a plan is in place. This #MONEYTALK blog highlights a personal story where COVID-19 impacted a family’s income and what was learned while she pivoted during a vulnerable time. 


Ouch.

When COVID-19 arrived, it happened fast. Our worlds were turned upside down as the world entered a sudden lockdown which resulted in canceled travel, activities, and events and forced many restaurants, schools and business to shut down.

For the lucky ones, there was an opportunity to work from home and for many others, there were layoffs, reduced hours, and reduced pay. Health concerns surrounding COVID-19 are already stressful enough but concerns about money during an uncertain time amplifies this stress and anxiety to an overwhelming state.

My family was a mix of the two categories. My income was not impacted and I was able to work from home, but with my husband working in the trades – things got a bit uncertain. We were used to his variable income, his hours fluctuating each week and his net pay always being different. Creating a monthly budget was often a bit of a strategy game as we tried to estimate what his monthly net pay would be. Sometimes we’d over budget over and many times we didn’t budget enough but typically it all seemed to work out.

COVID-19 changed a lot for my family. There was no more work travel, he experienced reduced work hours, and my husband saw his pay decrease. Comparing March, April, and June to the few months before, we calculated a 30% decrease in our family income. Though we were lucky to both still be working and were used to having a variable monthly income, a 30% dip was unexpected. In order to support our family that includes two teenage girls, some budget shifting was clearly needed.

Budgets do help, especially in times of uncertainty

We’ve been using a monthly family budget for the last three years that outlines all of the money we anticipate to bring in and how we plan on spending that money. This also includes how much we plan on taking from each paycheck and putting away into a savings account. Throughout the month, we track our spending and compare it to the budget to see where we sit and if we need to watch our spending in certain categories. Spoiler alert: we are almost always over our Restaurants & Take-Out category!

When COVID-19 happened, we went back to our budget and re-adjusted the number to our new reality – decreasing our anticipated income and relooking at our expenses to see where we could reduce. Though there was a bit of stress at the beginning due to the unexpected income decrease, this was quickly gone once I was able to plug in the numbers and see that with a few changes to our budget – it would be okay.

Advice: A lot of our worries around money surround the anxieties of not feeling in control. Creating a budget helps you feel at ease and allows you to buy-in to your gameplan. It may seem like work to track all of your purchases and hold yourself accountable to stay within these budget categories but the peace of mind it brings you is very worth it! If you need help getting started, try our free budget calculator.

Mini Eggs add to the budget and waistline

Did anyone else feel they were no longer doing three meals a day but instead ten? With school being closed and us working from home, the sound of the fridge or pantry opening became more and more frequent. Snacking increased and our meals seemed to be more extravagant for every day of the week. Although delicious, this caused grocery lists, bills, and waistlines to inflate. Food kept us company during quarantine and a family sized bag of mini eggs was a very popular roommate in our household.

After a few (larger than I’d like to admit) grocery bills that brought us close to our monthly budgeted amount, we realized our current amount was not going to work. We increased our budget a bit to accommodate for the increase in fridge and pantry visits and then created a plan. This plan included setting out the menu for the week and making a grocery list of the ingredients needed. We also made sure to look at what we had in our freezer and pantry to use items that we may have forgotten we had or preparing simpler meals like soup and sandwiches. These minor habit changes allowed us to focus our spending and stick within the budget we had set.

Advice: “Leftovers” feels like a derogatory word. But if you cook with extra portions in mind, your monthly budget flourishes. We’d schedule “leftover night” into our weekly menu in order to save some room in our budget while also not having to worry about time preparing the meal.

Do I need this?

With stores closing down, I was no longer able to shop just for the sake of shopping. No more “just because” Winners trips that resulted in a $200 receipt from purchases I didn’t need.

COVID-19 helped me realize the unnecessary shopping I was doing and that I was adding budget line items to accommodate for these impulsive purchases. When looking at how to readjust our budget due to decrease in income, I looked at each budget item and asked myself: is this a NEED or a WANT? This helped me understand some of my impulsive spending habits and decrease areas within my budget that weren’t absolutely necessary.

Advice: Quick purchases may seem small but they add up quick. I challenge you to resist the urge of small, minor purchases (ie: picking up a coffee on the way to work) for a month and keep track of what they would have cost you. The results are eye-opening!

No money required

Before the pandemic, our family was always on the go and if we didn’t have a sport happening, we kept ourselves busy by going shopping or  an activity of some sort that usually had a cost associated with it. With everything being canceled or closed, we had to find new ways to stay busy.

Endless browsing of stores turned into walks around the neighbourhood and all the projects we had pushed to the side started getting done.  COVID-19 taught our family that there are many activities you can do that don’t cost you money. This was another expense we were able to reduce within our budget. We quickly learned that we don’t need to spend money in order to enjoy each other’s company and even when things return to “normal”, I can see us being a lot more frugal with how much we spend on activities.

Advice: Pinterest is a great source of inspiration in order to find free or low-cost activities for your family. Did you know you can combine cornstarch, water and food colouring to make your own sidewalk chalk paint? This is an example of how you can utilize items you will likely have around the house for a fun activity with no extra spending needed.

Be prepared for the unexpected

In the past, our family has experienced layoffs, illnesses, and injuries that prevented us from working and receiving a paycheck. We were never prepared for these unexpected events, which led to a lot of financial stress in figuring out how to pay bills or put food on the table.

We started putting money from each paycheck away into an Emergency Savings Account to be prepared for these unexpected moments. When our income dropped by 30%, there was a sense of relief as we had these emergency savings to lean back on if needed. Even though the adjustments in our spending prevented us from needing to dip into the account, it was nice to know it was there if needed.

Advice: You never know when there may be a pandemic, job loss, injury, or even an event that you weren’t planning on such as your water heater stopping or a car accident. An emergency savings account helps you be prepared for these moments and reduces any stress you may have from trying to find money within your budget to cover these unexpected expenses. Check out the #MONEYTALK blog, The Importance of Having an Emergency Fund, to learn more.

While COVID-19 caused some inconveniences and made our family shift, it also allowed us to re-examine our spending habits. The lessons we learned and the changes we made are ones we will continue doing, even as things, hopefully soon, return to normal.

What I Learned From Buying a House During COVID-19

Sorry, Dorothy – repeating “there’s no place like home” will not wake you up from the nightmare that 2020 has trapped us in BUT there may be no time like the present to look into buying a new home during a global pandemic. After years of saving (and with a lot of help from our 2020 trip budget), my husband and I were able to buy our first house together. If you are wondering what it is like to house hunt during a worldwide virus outbreak – it was a different experience but one that I am happy I did and learned a lot from. This is what I learned from buying a house during COVID-19.


The Search

When you start getting serious about looking for a house, you start thinking about your criteria. How many bedrooms do you want? What end of the city do you want to live? To reno or not to reno? For us, our dream home originally came complete with an open concept, finished basement and a garage, but quarantine caused us to move some other things up in priority. For example, a home office became suddenly mandatory after I spent months hunched over on a wooden seat at the island in my kitchen. My point is, a few things changed, but it is important to assess what are your must-haves and what has some wiggle room to change.

We had to be very selective when physically viewing houses for a couple reasons. For starters, open house viewings were now a thing of the past so we had to book an appointment to be able to visit. Second, there were procedures put in place to make the experience of buying a home during COVID-19 safe for both us house hunters and the home owners. For example:

  • Prior to entering, we had to participate in a questionnaire to consent that we did not have any symptoms and have not traveled within the past 14 days
  • Out of respect and safety for the home owners, we were told to touch minimal things and whatever we did touch was disinfected afterwards
  • We made sure to keep our 6 feet distance from our realtor, which is hard to do when viewing a house

If anything, these procedures made us feel that both sides were being respected, provided a safe environment and really didn’t add that much more time. It did however, encourage us to really make the most of our time at each location and be very intentional and thorough to decide if this home was an option for us. Overall, it was different – but we found our home!

The Payment

COVID-19 or no COVID-19, figuring out your financing is a big component when you’re making one of the most expensive purchases of your life. You need to know how much you can comfortably afford with your mortgage and bills all factored in, furnishing your new home, plus, you’ve got to eat! For us, as big travelers in a travel ban world, we were able to reallocate our savings for trips for this year into furnishing our home. My advice would be to review what has changed in your finances or savings during COVID-19 and how that will adjust going forward – there is no shame in changing up your plans!

One very important bonus right now for those looking to buy a new home is that the interest rates are low. That’s great news for buyers as the cost of borrowing is much lower so you’ll pay a lot less in the long run. Now more than ever, it is incredibly important to shop around before locking in your lender and the terms of your mortgage. This rate finder tool from Rate Hub gives you a one-stop shop to compare mortgage rates from the Big Banks. But don’t just choose one from there, make sure to shop around via other options like your local credit union or the financial institution you work with for your day-to-day banking. Your financial advisor will be able to work with you to find a mortgage that fits your overall financial well-being and some may even offer lower rates altogether.

Here’s a hot tip for buying a house during COVID-19 that I learned from my realtor: when chatting with your financial institution, be sure to ask what they offer for an interest rate guarantee. An interest rate guarantee or mortgage rate hold, is locking in a specific rate for a certain number of days, so you will be guaranteed that rate even if they go up during your house hunting journey. This is important right now because as the market recovers from COVID-19, the interest rate will continue to rise back up so placing a hold on these low rates will buy you some time to make sure you are being thorough in your house search.

Even if the mortgage rate goes down, some financial institutions will honor the decreased rate. I will admit, I had a mini celebration each time I saw the rate drop before we officially signed our documents. For more helpful tidbits on mortgages during COVID-19, visit this blog we published earlier this month on how COVID-19 affects the renewal of your mortgage.

The Closure

Closing costs and the process it takes can be the most frustrating part of purchasing a home. Although, I wish it was under different circumstances, some of these processes have become quite efficient during COVID-19. Typically, once you are ready to sign on the dotted line – you end up having to do that many times and over many appointments across the city. Because of COVID-19, we were able to sign almost everything digitally including realtor agreements, mortgage documents, insurance and even signing the offer. There were some signatures needed in person with our lawyer but with the new procedures in place – it was quick, easy and safe!

Buying a house during COVID-19 maybe wasn’t the norm, but I was happy with the process and found it much more streamlined. It has been super exciting and has been a source of light in an otherwise dark time. Now we can reminisce on the Facetime bloopers with our realtor and cheers to building back up that trip fund over a distanced drink on our patio!

Recovering Canceled Travel Costs During COVID-19

This year travel came with all the stress and none of the excitement. For many, it meant cancelled trips, leaving most feeling disappointed, concerned and wondering about refunds. After months of planning your dream vacation or weekend getaway, you are now having to spend months scrambling to recoup costs. Here’s some of the best ways – and how to make the most of staying home!


Cancelling a trip due to COVID-19

Let’s be honest, 2020 hasn’t gone as planned for anyone. Especially those who finally saved enough in their piggy banks to take their dream trip. Unless you were lucky enough to travel in January or February,  you’ve spent 2020 cancelling travel plans and refreshing refund policy web pages for updates on how you will recoup your costs. I was a part of the group who were hopeful for a travel resurgence in the Fall and Winter seasons who are now realizing our trips are suffering the same fate as those who booked in the first half of the year.

Travel is exciting and fun but it can also be stressful and a lot of work to plan but typically it is always worth the work. *sighs* But when you throw in a global pandemic, now the time you took to plan the perfect getaway is being rewarded with more work to undo it with the hopes of losing the least amount of money as possible. Navigating refunds from travel plans you’ve spent months assembling can be overwhelming and tough. Here’s what I’ve learned is the best way to recoup these costs:

Flights & Accommodations

For the travel and hospitality industry, COVID-19 has posed as a huge threat. Many flight and travel companies are having to rethink and change their policies to accommodate the safety of their guests and staff, but also the influx in cancellations. Travel service providers, hotels and rental companies worked quickly to address the impacts of COVID-19, posting information and making updates as new information was communicated. Luckily, most made the right decision to shift to more relaxed and flexible refund policies.

With so much information being shared it can be overwhelming. A resource that I found particularly helpful was this article that outlines the  current policies for major airlines, hotels and rental companies.

Another great place to start is to review your travel insurance, if you had any, the terms and conditions of your booking and refund policies. This will help you understand if you need to talk to someone or if you can easily cancel online. If you are having issues finding this information in your booking documents, visit the company’s website. Most companies have created a “COVID-19 Updates” page on their website, making it easy to find the information you need. Finally, if all else fails, pick up the phone and call them. They’ll be able to bring up your information and communicate their refund policies. Plus, many times these agents will be trained to offer exceptions, personalized solutions and even future discounts in order to rectify a situation so sometimes it pays to talk to someone directly.

Tickets

I’m guessing that if you booked an expensive getaway, you likely had some things planned in your destination. Whether it is sports games, concert tickets, art shows and all things in between – most of these attractions would have been purchased in advance. If it’s a concert, you might get lucky as many artists are just postponing shows to the following year instead of cancelling. However, if it’s a sports event or show it might look a little different.  Here are some of the most common ticket sale channels and how to recoup costs:

  1. StubHub
  2. Ticketmaster
  3. Vivid Seats

If you booked tickets outside of these services or you didn’t find any luck through these resources – give them a call. Like I mentioned before, many service providers understand the threat of substitutes in their industry and any unsatisfied customer is a risk to the main thing that keeps them afloat: their reputation. Pick up the phone and explain your situation to them – chances are they will work with you to ensure you leave the conversation satisfied.

Staycation anyone?

Although it hasn’t felt like anything good can come from 2020, life is what you make it! I’m sure you just rolled your eyes a little bit, but I mean it. I once heard that if you want to make progress, you need to create an uncomfortable environment. I don’t know about you, but 2020 has made me pretty uncomfortable. So let’s lean into it and make the best of what life has thrown our way. You know what they say, when life gives you a global pandemic and takes away your dream vacation, make lemonade by turning it into a Saskatchewan Staycation!

Staycation

This new normal has provided perspective and has shown us – it’s okay to slow down.

So, use your vacation days and take some much needed R&R to yourself. Sleep in, read a good book, binge watch that Netflix show, order in from your favourite local spot and truly disconnect from the chaos of the world. If this is exactly what you did during quarantine and your house is feeling like a prison – this is a great opportunity to explore Saskatchewan.

Travel within Saskatchewan 

Saskatchewan is often overlooked because we’re small and don’t have the mountains. As someone who is born and raised in Regina, I even find myself overlooking my own province – thinking ‘I’ve seen it all’ or going back to the same spots because they are familiar.

When we travel, something takes over and we are more open to trying new things and exploring, so I challenge you to take that challenge and go explore the province! I dare you to reacquaint yourself with those little forgotten gems or find somewhere new. Last summer we posted a MONEYTALK blog that helps you travel Saskatchewan on a budget. Just because travel is restricted doesn’t mean you are fenced in to your own backyard.

When you travel within Saskatchewan, you aren’t just exploring something new, you are also helping to fuel our economy. COVID-19 has had major impacts on our economy, by staying and travelling in our own province, you are helping to improve this.

Here are some other great resources on recouping costs and travel information:

What to know about credit card chargebacks

Government of Canada: Travel and Tourism

How to Support Local in Saskatchewan Without Breaking Your Bank

Now more than ever, our local Saskatchewan businesses need our support. It’s no question COVID-19 has impacted each and every person in Saskatchewan and across the world, but this rings especially true for small business. Here are some of the ways you can support local without breaking the bank. Big or small, together our actions can have a tremendous impact. 


The Impacts of COVID-19

As humans, we are creatures of habit. For some, this rings truer than others – I am one of these creatures. Whether it’s that one restaurant you love and always order from because you know the meal is always good or the grocery store you stop at every Sunday because it’s closest to your house. We all have habits, we may not even realize it. More often than not, these restaurants, stores or businesses aren’t local.

We crave routine and when we find something that works or is comfortable it becomes difficult to break that habit. But I’m challenging you to break it!

In Saskatchewan, small businesses account for 98% of businesses in our province, major contributors to the quality of life we all enjoy. Right now, these businesses need our support – COVID-19 has impacted us all in major ways, but it has hit our small businesses especially hard. However, shopping local can sometimes mean needing to spend a little more, and while we move through this uncertain time in our lives, it might mean less income for families and individuals. Between March and April, Statistics Canada reported almost 53,000 job losses in Saskatchewan. While we need to continue to stimulate the economy, we also need to ensure that we are able to care for ourselves, put food on the tables, and pay our bills.

It typically takes a minimum 21 days to break a habit, here are some ways you can start right now, without breaking the bank:

“Where do I even begin?”

When individuals start supporting local there are many benefits. For one, it helps stimulate the economy by allowing money to be cycled back into your community, not only through your purchase, but through these businesses supporting local non-profits, charities and community events.

However, in order to support local, you need to know what is local! Here are some great resources to find what is local in your community:

Shop Local

One of the easiest ways to support local, is to shop local.

In Saskatchewan we have an amazing local community and your options to choose from are truly endless. From grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, sporting goods, and garden centers – our small businesses have it all.  Here are some ways you can shop local without breaking the bank:

  1. Buy gift cards from local stores for birthdays, anniversaries, graduation gifts, etc.
  2. Eat local. Once a month choose a different restaurant to support and order from them
  3. Grocery shop from a local store or farmers market. There is nothing better than fresh produce, especially in the summer
  4. Choose a local shop, this could be a garden center, fitness store or facility, clothing store, etc. to buy from once a month
  5. Going for ice cream? Instead of grabbing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, find a local ice cream store

Your purchases don’t have to be large or frequent, but if we all come together and contribute in small ways – the impact can mean something big.

Word of Mouth

Supporting local is more than just shopping local. It means enjoying, recommending and sharing your experiences with others.

Right now you maybe can’t afford to shop local, and that’s okay – there are other ways you can show your support. You may have shopped at a local grocery store in the past or had that favourite lunch spot you went to once a month with co-workers. Word of mouth can be a powerful tool – AND it doesn’t cost anything. Here are some ways you can start flexing your influential muscles:

  1. Utilize social media. What businesses do you recommend? What was your experience? What did you love about the product or service they offered? Whether it is posting on your personal social media platforms or sharing your favorite spots in public groups dedicated to supporting local restaurants during the pandemic like this one, your endorsement will likely spark the interest of someone else to try your favorite.
  2. Leave a positive review on google or other platforms. I don’t know about you, but I often check out the reviews section, especially when I’m buying from somewhere new. I like knowing what other people have experienced.
  3. Promote the different ways you’ve seen businesses in your community pivot and adapt in the face of COVID-19. It’s amazing to see how resilient businesses have been in the face of adversity. From launching online stores to donating their profits, they all deserve a shout out.

Donate to a local non-profit or charity

COVID-19 has effected nearly everyone – this rings especially true for more vulnerable populations who have lost access to critical services in our communities. Services such as food supply and housing, but also access to wireless services for students now learning from home or individuals working from home. There are so many amazing organizations across Saskatchewan that exist to support individuals with these areas that are looking for your donations in order to get them through these uncertain times.

“Donations” doesn’t always have to mean money, either. Non-profit and charities are often looking for items of clothing, non-perishable food or books. If you’re anything like me, your closet is full of items you’ve been holding on to you for years for that “one occasion” that never seems to roll around.

Here are some other ideas of items you could donate to shelters, food banks, non-profits, or charitable organizations:

  • Clothing, shoes or bags
  • Old electronic devices, such as laptops, iPad, or phones
  • Food, including baby food
  • Blankets
  • Women’s hygiene products
  • Diapers
  • Books
  • Old school supplies

The next time you are going out for your next purchase, pause and ask yourself, can I buy this from a local store? When you shop local, that money stays local and is reinvested back into the community you live. But remember, support can be shown in many ways and doesn’t only mean purchasing goods and services. Challenge yourself to donate, share word of mouth and educate yourself of what’s local in your community. As a community we are stronger together and that starts with supporting one another.

More COVID-19 Scams to Monitor

During this pandemic, it’s not just your physical health at risk, your financial health may be as well. Throughout times of uncertainty we are seeing fraudsters launch sophisticated scams, exploiting public fears for targeted attacks – and we’re definitely in uncertain times.  In addition to the scams we went over earlier, here are five more of the most prevalent COVID-19 scams we’re seeing used to attack people’s financial health and how you can protect yourself from being a victim.


You don’t think it can happen to you, until it does. We often think we will never fall victim to a scam, but it can happen to anyone. Fraud scams are under reported because victims are too embarrassed to admit they were exploited, and this perpetuates these crimes.

Fraud doesn’t discriminate and the tactics become more predatorial and sophisticated in health and economical crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. More than one million Canadians applied for Employment Insurance between March 16 – 22, 2020 because of COVID-19 job losses. The Government of Saskatchewan started introducing public health orders on March 17 that restricts social gatherings and business closure for non-essential services. People are more isolated than they’ve ever experienced, they’re feeling financially insecure, and their sense of normalcy has been disrupted. Criminals target these feelings and with the increase of information about COVID-19 in media coverage, on social media, and direct email, it can be difficult to know what is trustworthy. Let’s make sure you are aware and protected from the following scams:

Social Media Questionnaires

Have you ever used your first car or your pet’s name as the answers to security questions? I know I have. Although harmless at first glance, these questionnaires are an easy way for a fraudster to gain access to your personal information to either answer your security questions or even pose as you to gain financial access.

You might be thinking, “I would never post this”, but someone you care about might or maybe has already. You may also think “I trust everyone in my friend list to not share my information.” They may be trustworthy, but it just takes one of them to get hacked and all of a sudden your personal information is in the hands of a fraudster.

Here’s how you can protect yourself:

  • DO NOT participate in these questionnaires and delete any old ones that you’ve posted. Spread the word to your friends and family as well.
  • Do not accept any friend requests from people you do not know and remove anyone that somehow slipped through the cracks.
  • Restrict the privacy settings on your social media accounts
  • Use secure passwords that include letters, numbers, and characters. Change your password routinely
  • Avoid security questions that could be easily guessed

CRA Text Scam

Do you know the warning signs of a scam? With all the uncertainty in the world right now, it’s easy to want to believe the best in people. This is what fraudsters are thriving off – vulnerability. This news story from CBC, warns Canadians of a text scam exploiting the new emergency relief program.

However, this isn’t the only scam going around. Some other scams to be alert for are text messages or emails from fraudsters impersonating the Canada Revenue Agency. This article outlines what to actually expect when the Canada Revenue Agency contacts you.

Here’s how you can protect yourself:

  • If it’s an unfamiliar phone number or email, don’t automatically trust the source
  • Look for spelling and grammatical errors in the text
  • Ask yourself “Does the URL look credible?” If you have ANY doubt, contact the company and fact check the message.

For more information on how to protect yourself, here the CRA outlines how to ‘Slam the Scam’.

Work From Home Scams

The provincial government recently warned against a work from home scam during the COVID-19 crisis. Fraudulent ads by companies offering opportunities to work from home as securities traders are appearing on social media. These ads promise that traders can keep a large percentage of the profits and they don’t need experience or a license. They only need to pay fees to the would-be traders.

If you’ve experienced job loss from COVID-19 and you’ve lost childcare, this would seem like a good way to replace your income – which is exactly why this tactic is being used. In Saskatchewan, anyone in the business of trading securities must be registered with Financial and Consumer Affairs Authority (FCAA), unless an exemption applies. The FCAA expects that similar scams will continue to increase during the COVID-19 crisis.

Fraudsters Posing as Financial Institutions

In times of uncertainty or struggle is often when individuals turn to their financial institution for advice, services or products to help them navigate their financial situation.

A text message scam has been circling around where fraudsters are posing as a financial institution, using scare tactics to try and gain access to your information.

 

 

As seen in this message below, someone impersonating Scotiabank has used a scare tactic to make you think your access has been disabled to get you to click the link. As we touched on before, here are some things you want to look out for:

  • Unfamiliar phone number
  • Spelling and grammatical errors
  • Unusual links

Here’s how you can protect yourself:

  • Don’t click any of the links in the message – go directly to your financial institution’s website through your web browser
  • Always log in to your account directly online or through your mobile app
  • Double check the source of the text – when using scare tactics people often just react, but in reality, you may not even have an account with Scotiabank
  • If something serious was happening to your account, your financial institution would definitely call you, not text you.

Exploiting Grocery Delivery for seniors

As we all take measures to social and physical distance ourselves, common tasks such as grocery shopping have become difficult, especially for some of the most vulnerable in our communities. Unfortunately, fraudsters are posing as helpful citizens offering to deliver groceries to seniors who are socially isolated or are physically unable. These scams ask for e-transfers or credit card numbers in advance with the grocery list. They’ll also ask for your address – not so they know where to deliver the groceries, but so that they can list it as the billing address when they charge the card. Disgusting, right?

Here’s how you can protect yourself:

  • Utilize delivery services offered directly through grocery stores/business in your community. Many grocery stores have started offering special shopping hours for seniors
  • Rely on friends and family to shop for you
  • Be alert and aware of other scams that exist right now
  • Have conversations with your parents and grandparents to educate them on how they can protect themselves

Remember, fraud does not start and end here – it’s important that you remain alert even as the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end. If you have been targeted or have fallen victim to an attack, it’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. It can happen to anyone.

For more information about protecting yourself from fraud and to learn about different scams out there right now, visit https://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/features-vedette/2020/covid-19-eng.htm.

What Emergency Funding is Available for Businesses & Ag Producers

The COVID-19 pandemic is making a significant impact on the Canadian economy, especially with small and medium sized businesses. The federal and provincial governments have announced different support efforts to relieve businesses and agricultural producers during these anxious times. Let’s help you break down these different measures so that you can brave this storm and best protect your business’ financial well-being.

UPDATED: May 21, 2020


Due to the nature of COVID-19, how it spreads, and how self-isolation is the best way to fight against it, businesses across Canada are facing difficult decisions. Over the last week, many provinces and municipalities have announced measures to stop the spread of the virus that resulted in business closures and massive layoffs. The Government of Canada has also announced multiple initiatives to support businesses to provide economic stability during this time. Agricultural producers are also feeling the weight of the pandemic as they approach the beginning of spring seeding and how to get their goods from a difficult 2019 growing year to market. Most of the information below and how to apply for benefits from the Government of Canada can be found here.

Supports for Businesses

Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)

Canadian businesses, including non-profit organizations and charities, whose March revenue has decreased by at least 15% due to COVID-19 and facing employee layoffs can access a temporary wage subsidy. Business owners can receive 75% of wages per employee to a maximum of $58,700 during the 3-month period, to a maximum of $847/week per employee. These payments will be back dated to March 15, 2020. Businesses will have to apply for the program through the My Business Account portal on the Canada Revenue Agency’s website. They will also need to apply each month. To qualify, they will need to prove that their revenues have fallen at least 15% in March, as compared to January and February’s revenues.For non-profits or charities where revenue verification will be more difficult, may be able to access the subsidy by proving donations have reduced. However, the specific details for these organizations is still being worked out.

The 10% wage subsidy that the government announced earlier this month is still in effect. Small businesses can continue to claim the 10% wage subsidy, to a maximum of $25,000 or $1,375/employee. Businesses do not need to have experienced a decrease in revenue for this and can access this support immediately by adjusting the remittances of income tax that they withhold from employee pay. If a business is already receiving the 10% wage subsidy, they can also receive the CEWS, however the amount they receive will  be adjusted down accordingly so that they receive a maximum of 75% subsidy between both programs.

To create some balance between employers and employees, the Government of Saskatchewan will allow businesses to not have to provide notice or pay in lieu in the event of a public emergency when the layoff is 12 weeks or less during a 16-week period. Additionally, if an employee is laid off for more than 12 weeks in a 16-week period, they will be considered terminated and entitled to access federal employment insurance programs.

Businesses also qualify for payment deferrals on loans, skip-a-payment, and interest only payment plans. You are encouraged to reach out to your financial institution to determine what supports are available to you and what makes the most sense with your financial situation.

Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance

The Government of Canada has announced the Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, in co-operation with Canada’s Provinces to provide much needed commercial rent relief to small businesses during this unprecedented time. This program will lower rent by 75% for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19, in co-operation with the property owner. The program provides commercial property owners access to forgivable loans if they cover 50% of the rent payments for eligible small business tenants.

The commercial property owner must agree to reduce the tenants rent by 75% for the months of April, May and June under a Rent Forgiveness Agreement. The property owner would not be able to evict the tenant under the agreement, and the tenant would cover the remaining 25% of rent owed. Tenants must be paying less than $50,000 a month in rent, have ceased operations or experienced a 70% decline in revenues due to COVID-19. Non-profit and charitable organizations also qualify for the program.

To apply and find more information, visit the CMHC website.

Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment

The Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment program provides much needed financial assistance to Saskatchewan’s small businesses that had to close or reduce operations due to the public health order during COVID-19.

The payment can be used for any purpose, including covering fixed costs or the costs associating with re-opening after the public health order has lifted restrictions. Payments are based of 15% of the businesses’ monthly revenue in April 2019 or February 2020 to a maximum of $5,000. Seasonal businesses 15% payments are based off the average monthly sales revenue for their 2019 operational months.

To be eligible, a Saskatchewan business or not-for-profit must:

  • Have been carrying on business in Saskatchewan on February 29, 2020;
  • Have been ordered to temporarily close or curtail operations through a COVID-19 public health order;
  • Have less than 500 employees:
    • Seasonal businesses:
      • In the year before the COVID-19 public health order; or
      • When averaged for the 3 years before the year in which the COVID-19 public health order;
    • Attest that they:
      • have experienced a loss in sales revenue from business activities due to a COVID-19 public health order;
      • plan to reopen operations following the cancellation of the COVID-19 public health order; and
      • have not received any payments or amounts from any other sources, including insurance, to replace or compensate for the loss of sales revenue other than amounts from other government assistance programs; and
    • Apply on or before July 31, 2020.

Applications can be completed on the Government of Saskatchewan website.

Business Tax Filing

Like the measures taken for filing personal income taxes, businesses will be able to defer the payment of income tax until September 1, 2020. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts owing. The Canada Revenue Agency will also pause most of its audit interactions for businesses for the next 4 weeks. For businesses requiring assistance understanding your tax obligations, help will be administered over the phone or through webinar.

Businesses and self-employed individuals can defer payments of the Goods and Services (GST)/ Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) until June 30, 2020. Businesses will also be able to defer customs duties owing on imports until June 30, 2020. Details about remittance schedules and how they qualify can be found here.

The Saskatchewan Government is also providing relief for you if you own a business and are unable to submit your Provincial Sales Tax (PST) remittance over the next three-months. You can submit a request for relief from penalty and interest charges here. Like the federal government, they are also pausing audit and compliance programs for businesses.

Credit Services

Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)

This emergency loan program will allow businesses to access interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to cover operating costs while revenue is down due to COVID-19. Contact your business advisor or financial institution to learn more about the CEBA and what it means for your business.

What is the CEBA loan?

  • $40,000 interest-free loan to help you cover operating costs you were not able to defer because of COVID-19
  • $10,000 (25%) of the $40,000 loan is eligible for complete forgiveness if $30,000 is repaid on or before December 31, 2022
  • If the loan cannot be repaid by December 31, 2022 it can be converted into a 3-year loan with an interest rate of 5%
  • Once your loan application has been reviewed and submitted the process for funding will take up to 7 days from completion.

How does the CEBA loan work?

  • The loan will be funded as a $40,000 term loan, 0% interest and no payments until December 31,2022
  • No interest will apply until January 1, 2023
  • Beginning January 1, 2023, interest accrues on the balance of the term loan at the rate of 5% per annum, payable monthly on the last day of the month
  • If you pay 75% of the balance of the term loan on or before December 31, 2022, the remaining balance of your term loan will be forgiven. For example, if your balance is $40,000 on January 1, 2021 and you repay $30,000 on or before December 31, 2022, the remaining $10,000 will be forgiven
  • If you do not repay the 75% of the balance of the term loan on or before December 31, 2022, the full loan balance and all accrued and unpaid interest will be due and payable on December 31, 2025.

What’s the eligibility criteria?

The eligibility criteria are as follows, per the Government of Canada’s requirements:

  • You are a Canadian operating company (ie. not a holding company) registered and in operation on or before March 1, 2020
  • Your Annual payroll expense is between $20,000 and $1.5 million, as evidenced on your 2019 T4 Summary of Renumeration Paid (T4SUM). If you cannot locate your T4SUM contact Revenue Canada for reissue
  • A 15-digit Canada Revenue Agency Number also shown on your T4SUM
  • Conexus is your primary financial institution – meaning your everyday business banking account and cash management activities are held with Conexus, and opened on or before March 1, 2020
    • If your everyday business banking account is held elsewhere, please apply for funding through the Financial Institution that holds your primary Business Operating Account
  • Your account must be in Good Standing as an existing member

Expanded eligibility as of May 19, 2020

The criteria for access to the CEBA Loan Program has been expanded to include businesses with sole proprietors, those that rely on contractors or family owned businesses that pay employees through dividends. To be eligible, applicants with payroll less than $20,000 must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a business operating account at a participating financial institution
  • Have a Canada Revenue Agency business number
  • Filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return
  • Have eligible non-deferrable expenses such as rent, property taxes, utilities and insurance that equal between $40,000 and $1.5 million

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) Co-Loan

On March 27th, the Federal Government announced the BDC Co-Lending Program to support Canadian businesses of all sizes that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.  Eligible applicants can access up to $6.25 million CAD (max loans amount dependent on business size) in loans to cover operating expenses such as rent and payroll and working capital needs such as inventory.  The loan will be jointly funded by BDC and your financial institution.

 

Business with less than $1 Million in Annual Revenue

Businesses with $1-50 Million in Annual Revenue

Businesses with over $50 Million in Annual Revenue

Up to $312,500 Up to $3.125 million

Up to $6.25 million

How does the BDC Co-Lending Program work?

  • Eligible business members can apply for financing to support their operational and liquidity needs
  • Term Loan
  • First 12 months to be interest only

What’s the eligibility criteria?

  • Been a member with your financial institution as of March 1, 2020
  • Been a viable business as of March 1, 2020 prior to COVID-19 impact
  • Meet the necessary requirements that will form part of the application process

More information can be found on the BDC website here.

To further ensure Canada’s businesses have access to credit services during this time, the Government of Canada is relaxing its parameters for certain funding:

  • The Canada Account ensures Canadian Exporters have access to loans, guarantees, and insurance policies during this time.
  • The Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) is allowing the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada to support small and medium businesses with an additional $10 billion. In addition, BCAP and BDC will work with private sector lenders to ensure credit solutions are offered for individual businesses, specifically businesses that operate in the oil and gas, air transportation, and tourism sectors.
  • Canada’s individual banks will be able to access $300 billion for the economy by lowering the Domestic Stability Buffer of risk-weighted assets by 1.25%. This is in addition to the Bank of Canada reducing its interest rate to 0.75% to support the economy. Further reductions to the interest rate are expected, but not known at this time.

More details on market support measures taken by the Government of Canada can be found here.

Export Development Canada Business Credit Availability Program Guarantee

As part of the federal government’s new $65 billion Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP), Conexus Credit Union and Export Development Canada (EDC) are partnering to provide small-and medium-sized Canadian businesses with financing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access the credit you need to cover payroll and other operating costs during this global health crisis. The EDC BCAP Guarantee provides businesses with up to $6.25 million in credit to cover operational costs like payroll and rent. Proceeds from the BCAP-supported loan cannot be used to repay or refinance existing debt (further restrictions apply to other non-operational costs). Export sales are not required to qualify for the program.

EDC fees related to this guarantee will be deferred for the first six months, giving some short-term relief to your business. EDC will provide a guarantee to Conexus Credit Union on 80% of the value of your loan. By sharing risk with EDC, we can help your company access the financing it needs. Note that the guarantee is to our institution, not your business, so you remain responsible for the full value of the loan.

For more information on the loan and the eligibility criteria, contact your business advisor.

Information can also be found on the EDC website.

Regional Relief and Recovery Fund

The Government of Canada has announced additional funding for small and medium businesses who need additional relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) provides $962 million in relief funding delivered through regional development agencies. Specifically, $304 million is allocated to Western Economic Diversification Canada to assist Western Canadian businesses specifically in the tourism sector.

The objective of the RRRF is to assist Western Canadian businesses that do not qualify for other programs such as the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) or the Community Futures Emergency Loan Program. The RRRF will support businesses in two ways:

  • Provides up to $40,000 in repayable contributions to businesses that are not eligible to access other federal support programs. Businesses that receive funds from the RRRF and repay 75% of the contribution (up to $30,000) on or before December 31, 2022 will result in forgiveness of 25% of the contribution (up to $10,000).
  • Provide up to $1,000,000 in repayable contributions to businesses that can demonstrate a meaningful contribution to the Western Canadian economy and are experiencing liquidity issues. These companies may not have accessed other Government of Canada relief programs, or may have accessed them, but require additional funding to mitigate cash flow pressures. This contribution is fully repayable.

Further details, including eligibility criteria for each stream, and how to apply, can be found here.

Examples of business that are eligible to apply to the RRRF:

  • Pre-revenue firms (e.g. a company that has not had any sales to date)
  • Businesses that do not have salaried employees (e.g. a company with a workforce of contract employees)
  • Businesses with no payroll that do pay their owners a salary (e.g. a company that pays its owners through dividends)

Examples of businesses that are not eligible to apply to the RRRF:

Applications are being accepted through Western Economic Development Canada and can be found here.

Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility

The Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF) is a program to support large employers through COVID-19. The program provides short-term liquidity assistance in the form of interest-bearing term loans through the Canada Enterprise Emergency Funding Corporation, a subsidiary of the Canada Development Investment Corporation. The assistance is available to large Canadian employers who meet the following criteria:

  • Make a significant impact on Canada’s economy by:
    • Having significant operations in Canada
    • Supporting a significant workforce in Canada
  • Have annual revenues of $300 million or more
  • Require a minimum loan of $60 million
  • Have never been found guilty of tax evasion

Assistance is available to large for-profit enterprises in all industries, except those who operate in the financial sector, as well as certain not-for-profit businesses. They must commit to minimizing loss of employment by sustaining their business operations through COVID-19 and provide an overall plan to return to financial stability.

For full information on LEEFF, visit the Canada Development Investment Corporation fact sheet here.

Canada Summer Jobs Program

On April 8th, the federal government announced changes to the Canada Summer Jobs Program to do more for students and small businesses that rely on the program to deliver essential services. The program creates almost 70,000 jobs for Canadians aged 15 to 30. Temporary changes to the program for this year include:

  • Increase to the wage subsidy so that employees can receive up to 100% of the minimum hourly wage for each employee
  • End date for employment is now February 28, 2021
  • Employers can adapt their activities to support essential services
  • Hiring staff on a part-time basis

Supports for Agricultural Producers

Farmers and the agri-food sector will be supported by Farm Credit Canada and an additional $5 billion dollars provided by the Government of Canada. You are encouraged to contact Farm Credit Canada to discuss the supports available to you.

Eligible farmers who have an outstanding Advanced Payments Program (APP) loan that comes due on or before April 30 will receive an automatic stay of default, giving farmers an additional 6 months to repay the loan. Those farmers with outstanding interest free loans, under the $1 million cap, can also apply for an additional $100,000 interest free portion for the 2020-21 year.

Agriculture and Food Business Solutions Fund

Farm Credit Canada will be running the Agriculture and Food Business Solutions Fund, providing agribusinesses and producers much needed relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. $100 million dollars will be available in the form of convertible debt investments and other flexible financing options. Companies that have experienced business disruption can apply for up to $10 million.

Fish Harvesters Benefit

Fish harvesters facing a 25% drop in income due to COVID-19, will have access to $470 million in relief from the Federal Government. The Fish Harvesters Benefit covers up to 75% of losses to a maximum of $10,000. Additional relief in the form of non-repayable grants will be available and the rules for Employment Insurance claims in 2021 will be changed to reflect previous years income.

AgriRecovery Set-Aside Program

The Saskatchewan Government announced an additional $5 million dollars for participation in the AgriRecovery Set-Aside Program, supporting producers in the livestock industry that need to hold their livestock back from markets. Saskatchewan Livestock producers will be able to access a total of $12.5 million under the program. 40% of the program is funded by the Saskatchewan Government, with the remaining 60% funded by the Federal Government. The program will be delivered to Saskatchewan producers through Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation.

Western Livestock Price Insurance Program

The Western Livestock Price Insurance Program (WLPIP) supports livestock producers by reducing the price of livestock insurance purchased through WLPIP. $5 million is being provided by the Saskatchewan Government to offset the premiums producers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 40% of the increased premium costs, back to February 25, 2020 will be covered by the government. Additionally, the deadline for obtaining calf price insurance through WLPIP is being extended to June 18, from May 28, 2020. Premium adjustments will be in place until September 1, 2020, and reviewed at that time.

Producers may also qualify for payment deferrals on loans, skip-a-payment, and interest only payment plans. You are encouraged to reach out to your financial institution to determine what supports are available to you and what makes the most sense with your financial situation.