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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.

3 Key Money Tips for High Schoolers

No matter how old you are – you likely aren’t satisfied with the amount of money you have and you want more. When you are in high school, you want to be able to buy the things you want, go out with your friends, and maybe even save for your future education. So, if you are a high schooler – here are a few things you can do with your money to make it work best for you!


Use these tips to make that cash you earned in your summer job last a little longer:

1. Make sure you have BOTH a debit and savings account.

Even if you primarily get your money in cash right now, you should be putting it in an account so you can make more. The sooner you open a bank account, including a separate savings account, the better. This is to get used to dealing with your money when it only exists on plastic and in your banking app and so you have somewhere to stash your savings separate from your spending money. Also, it saves you from having to check the pockets in all of your jeans or the bottom of the washing machine to try and find that extra $20 bill you stashed away for safe keeping.

2. Talk about money.

A lot of people’s parents or guardians don’t talk about money. Sometimes it’s because they’re not good with money themselves and sometimes people are just weird with their financial information, even with their kids. If your parents shut down conversations about budgeting or how much their mortgage or car payments are, that’s where the first piece of advice comes in. If you are a member of a financial institution, you have access to financial experts who can help you out or direct you to reliable resources. If you’re wondering anything about money, chances are someone else has googled that same question! Don’t feel embarrassed if you need to google how to read your first paycheck or what compound interest is (trust me, you want to know what that one is)!

3. Get to saving!

Yeah, you probably don’t make very much right now, but the idea is that if you start making saving a habit now, it will feel natural when you’re making more money. If you save just 10% of every dollar you earn, you’re setting yourself up for success. Right now you have time on your side, which means that your money has the power to make more money by just sitting in an account with good interest, or through an investment.

Let’s say you open a savings account with a 3% interest rate and you contribute just $10 each month for 10 years. On top of the $1,200 you’ve invested, you will have made an additional $200 just by having the money sit there. That’s the power of time (and compound interest)! Don’t believe me? Check out our Savings Calculator to plug in different values to show how much you can grow your account through time and some simple savings behaviour. That’s way more than you’d make by just keeping the cash in a jar in your bedside nightstand. Plus, this way, it’s safe from your snoopy brothers and sisters!

That’s it! Three simple ways to start saving so you can start building that bank account nice and early.

“Ouch, My Budget!” – Tips for Getting Your Finances Back on Track

When the joy and excess of the holiday season fades, you might be left with a seriously depleted bank account or a bulging credit card statement. When the bills are piled as high as the presents were under the tree – what do you do?


Blue Monday got you down?

Whether it’s after an expensive holiday season, unexpected expense, or from simply getting a bit too lax about your money, here are some main strategies to get you back on track.

Reduce: Your Spending

This is probably the most important tip. Reducing the amount of money going out will help you cover your debt, get back to saving, or whatever your goal is. I find it helpful to list out the expenses in your life that you would classify as needs (housing, groceries, bill payments, transportation, etc.), and those that are wants (eight different streaming services, eating out every night, new clothes, etc.). Then, you can see what can be reduced. Maybe you only really use one streaming service regularly, or only during new seasons of your favourite show. It seems small but these monthly fees add up fast and furious.

 Modify: Your Behaviours

Do you find yourself automatically heading for the drive-through or coffee shop every morning out of habit? It’s time to modify your behaviour to push yourself toward saving rather than spending. Start adding bagels to your grocery list and pop one in the toaster before you head to work or take a different route that avoids your favourite stops. You can also incentivize yourself toward better financial habits. For example, you could charge yourself a fee (that goes into your savings) every time you make an unnecessary purchase or reward yourself for meeting savings goals.

My personal favorite that holds me accountable is to keep a running list on my phone of any purchases that I would have made if I wasn’t making an active attempt to save. For instance, if I typically would grab a morning coffee on my way into work and I successfully avoid the temptation, I will add $3.00 to my running total. It can scale all the way up to larger purchases as well. You know when you are trying on some clothes and you know that you don’t really need the item but would have likely bought it anyway? If you can push past the urge to whip out the credit card, you can add this to your running tally and before you know it – you’ll have a nice chunk of change saved and a note on your phone that applauds your impulse control and saving behaviour.

Add: Routine, Automation, & Income

Saving doesn’t always mean denying yourself of your favorite things! Both routine and automation are your best savings friends. Routine can be things like meal-prepping or taking your cash tips to the bank every week. Automation can be automatic bill payments or savings contributions that you don’t even need to think about. Just make sure before you automate, that your budget consistently allows for that money to come right out of your account. The final thing that you can add is income. See if there’s a way for you to use your skills, talents, or time to make a bit more money to pay down that debt or add to your savings. For me, it’s running a mini Varage Sale empire that allows me to create closet space while making some spare cash on the side.

All of these tips are meant to help you minimize stress and get back to a more comfortable financial place. Hopefully you see one or two that you know are do-able for you.

Setting Resolutions for a Financially Healthy Year

Before the clock strikes midnight on New Years, we typically already have a list of resolutions that will help us in the upcoming year. Why not focus a few of these resolutions  on bettering your financial situation? Let’s get you thinking about some of these resolutions that could get 2020 started on a financially stable foot.


Every year you probably set yourself a resolution or two. “I’m going to read at least one book every month!”, “I’m going to eat healthier!” or “I’m going to get active!” That’s awesome, but have you ever considered what financial resolutions you could be setting?

If the goal is improvement (which it always is) why not set out to improve your finances, too? Doing so might even help you meet some of your other goals because those fresh veggies and gym memberships to fulfill your other resolutions don’t always come cheap.

We’re all at different stages in our lives and priorities are going to be different for everyone and will vary as your lifestyle change. Here are some examples of financial resolutions you may want to set for yourself this year. See what makes sense for where you’re at right now.

  • Pay down your debt – set a percentage or dollar figure goal if it’s too much to tackle in a single year
  • Save for a down payment on a house, condo, or cabin
  • Save for two month’s rent plus damage deposit and moving costs in order to rent an apartment
  • Become more financially literate – read books or articles, or speak to a financial expert
  • Save 10% of your income every single month
  • Teach your kids about money
  • Make a budget and stick to it
  • Improve or start working on your credit score
  • Earn more income
  • Save to buy that expensive thing you want upfront – like a big vacation, new car, or renovation
  • Donate a set monthly amount to a cause or charity that you love
  • Figure out how much you really need to retire, and work out how to get there
  • Start an emergency fund
  • Make your money work harder – if you’ve been crushing goals you might be in a place to start investing for bigger returns than your current savings account offers

All of these are really just some basic ideas to get you thinking about what financial resolutions you could set this year. Remember that your goals should always be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

How Take-Out Almost Took Out My Budget

With so many options for ordering meals via delivery, it’s becoming increasingly hard to resist the convenience of take-out and maintaining the discipline to stick to your meal prepping schedule. Let’s look at a real-life example of how creating and sticking to a budget can save your bank account from landing in the trash with your leftover to-go containers. 


Step One is Admitting the Problem

Hello, my name is Mason and I’m a recovering take-out-aholic.

I used to eat out an embarrassing amount. If I were to get married tomorrow, my Uber Eats driver would be the best man at my wedding. Okay, maybe not – but for a couple of years, unless I had access to a free meal, I was likely getting food delivered to my home or picking it up at lunch time. It’s a dangerous habit that I would justify by saying “I’m saving so much time not having to worry about buying groceries, cooking and doing the dishes after”. The number one question I would get was “How do you even afford this?” Good question. Back then, I had a tenant that was basically paying for my mortgage payments and as a single guy who doesn’t really travel or shop a ton (exciting life hey?), this seemed manageable at the time.

One blessed day, my addiction hit rock bottom. Let’s just say that you’ve never really experienced shame until you’ve had the same Skip the Dishes driver twice in the same day. This was the epiphany I needed to take a hard look at how much I was spending per meal and think about all of the other places where that money could be allocated. The problem was that I didn’t even know how much money I was letting drain from my bank account. I was blindly swiping my card two-three times a day without any idea of the impact this would have on my monthly expenses. So where do you even begin to get things under control? It all starts with a budget.

Basic Budgeting Facts

We throw the term “budget” around quite loosely as a noun and a verb, but budgeting is simply taking the time to identify how much money your household can afford to save each month. In essence, it is the process of mapping out whether you have enough income to cover your monthly expenses and how you plan on allocating the remaining money left over. For you, it may mean making sure you have enough to pay for your kids’ piano lessons or education. For me, it means making sure I can afford to pay for a cable bill to support my fantasy football obsession. 

According to this study, just over 60% of Canadians use a budget, though, 32% of Canadians said their income does not always cover their living expenses and 13% said they’ve borrowed to make ends meet. I was one of the 40% who did not use a budget and was not tracking where my money was being spent without any guidelines around where my money should be going. I did a little bit of digging and this same study broke down recommended percentages of spending:

Recommended percentages of spending:

  • Housing – 30-40%
  • Transportation – 10-20% 
  • Living Expenses – 20-30% 
  • Debt Repayment – 10-20% 
  • Savings – 10%+ 

After tracking a month of my spending, I realized that my percentages were all out of whack. Outside of paying a small amount towards pension, the entire recommended 10% of Savings were inflating my Living Expenses and I was up to 60% thanks to my dependence on delivery. I knew something had to change and after a few months of being really intentional in my spending and eating habits, I shrunk my monthly spending on meals by over 40% and $600! Here’s some tips I learned along the way:

Weekly Meal Prepping Pays Off

Part of the reason I was eating out so much was to save myself from the time it takes to buy the groceries, prepare the meal and then do the dishes. It can also be expensive to cook for one person (check out our Cost of Being Single blog) because of grocery sizes and a lot of recipes are for more than one person. One of the best purchases I ever made was an Instant Pot that allows me to create easy recipes with large portions in a short amount of time. This allows me to do all of my meal prepping on Sunday and I don’t have to spend any time during the week preparing or cleaning up after meals. Think about it: if you are spending $20 on a portion where you can get 3-4 meals out of it instead of spending $20 on one take-out meal, you are saving up to $60! No wonder my living expenses were so high!

Ask For The Receipt

I get it. When the cashier asked “Do you need a receipt?” it’s so much easier to say “No thanks” and watch them crumple it up on your way out the door. I’ve learned that holding onto the receipt and making sure it’s added to your budget spreadsheet not only holds you accountable to your spending, but also saves you in the long run. Tracking your spending throughout the month and comparing it to your budget will help show you where you’re on track, may be under budget and where you may need to refrain from spending due to almost reaching your budget. When your mind tries to trick you into ordering out on a Sunday night, you’ll have the budget numbers to rationalize staying on budget.

If you have a significant other that you share expenses with, be sure to create your budget together. This ensures you’re on the same page when it comes to the money you’re generating and spending. It’s not a bad thing to have the other person holding you accountable either! 

Leave Room for Buffer, Not Guilt

If you are dramatically changing your habits, it’s not going to happen over night. Whether you have a busy week or a night where you need to recharge, you may have no choice but to order delivery. Leave a buffer in your budget for those unexpected expenses to make sure you have a realistic picture of how much you’ll spend in a month and so you aren’t feeling guilty that your saving progress has all been lost. 

You know what the say, “Old habits die hard” and it’s true. However, it’s hard not to be motivated when a budget shows you just how much money you are saving. Sometimes all it takes to make a major life change is to just start with a budget.


Do you have any tips to keep your budget numbers low?! Share them below!

The Key To Basic Savings

 Savings. We all know we should have them, but it’s hard. We’ve got bills to pay, lives to lead, and we’re bombarded every day with cool new stuff we could buy. So how exactly do you become one of those people with savings?


The “End of the Month” Trap

You’ve been there, right? “I’ll save whatever money is left over at the end of the month. Of course I will!” No. You won’t. Almost none of us can manage this strategy. You need to build your savings into your budget, and they need to come off your paycheque first, or after essential bills. Put that money somewhere that isn’t your chequing account. Most credit unions and financial institutions offer automatic savings programs you can set up so that you don’t even have to remember to save, it just happens. If you set it up so that the money comes out of your account the same day you get paid, it’s like it was never there at all.

How Much to Save

Where do you even start? A good amount to start with is 10% of your monthly earnings at least once every three months. So, if you make $2,000 per month after tax, you should be saving $200 every three months (about $67 each month or $17 each week). If you can save more, that’s great – but this is a great jumping off point that can help you get started with good savings behaviour.

Find Your Motivation

If you’ve struggled to save money, it can be helpful to have a goal in mind. An emergency fund is a good goal. What does that even mean? How much was your last big car repair or other unexpected expense? Start with a goal of saving that much. Another excellent goal is three months of living expenses. Imagine how comfortable you could be knowing that you can support yourself during a challenging time in your life such as job loss, injury or a family emergency. Every little bit matters, so don’t be afraid to start small.

Keep it Visible

Whether it’s a jar you stash your tips in, or a savings account, make sure you can see that money without difficulty. Watching that number rise or that jar fill up will help you stay motivated and see the progress you’re making, even if you feel like you’re only saving a tiny bit each month. To remove the temptation to spend, it is a good idea to regularly transfer your jar savings into a savings account.

Start Today

The best time to start saving was whenever you first got an allowance or income … the second-best time is today! Open a savings account or get a jar and put five bucks in there. Start with that and start today. Make saving a habit and you’ll be rewarded with lower stress and a comfortable future where you can handle a lot more with your financial safety net. Start with these easy tips and soon you’ll be one of those people with savings.


What savings strategy to you swear by? List it below!

What Does it Really Mean to Pay Yourself First?

If you’ve heard the phrase Pay Yourself First before and never really understood what that means, you’re in the right place. It’s one of the phrases that comes up a lot when talking about saving, investing, or even just budgeting. It’s a simple strategy, but one that needs a bit of explanation to make the most of it.


Pay Your Future Self

A good way to think about the Pay Yourself First strategy is to remember that you aren’t paying the you that wants a venti coconut milk chai latte (extra hot) right now, but the you a year or so down the road who needs money for an unexpected car repair, moving to a new apartment, buying a house, or retirement. You’re paying the future you.

These Payments Come First

So, if you’re paying your future self first, does that mean you ignore your bills and have zero fun ever? No. Putting priority on your future self just means that you adjust your budgets in a way that these savings or investments happen before anything else. Ideally, they come off your paycheque on payday. This could mean a bit less money right now but saving shouldn’t be painful or make you antisocial. It might just mean more potlucks and less dinners out.

Make Regular, Consistent Savings

Paying yourself first should be easy to manage, once you get it set up. Automatic contributions and savings programs are your best friend in this strategy. After you’ve figured out how much you can save from each paycheque, you won’t have to touch these numbers unless there is a change in your income or expenses. Need help figuring out how much you can save from each paycheque? Here’s your guide to creating a budget.

Self-starter? Set up your own savings schedule by opening a separate account, preferably one where you can earn high interest, that you only make deposits into. Make bi-weekly or monthly contributions and do not use this account for paying bills or spending money, this is strictly for the future you.

You Might Already Be Paying Yourself First

Some employers have group Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), or other investment or savings opportunities that can come right off your paycheque before you even get it. If you’re participating in a plan like this, congrats! You’ve already started to pay yourself first.

The Payoff is Security

Paying yourself first can be a tough habit to get into because you don’t get to enjoy that money right now. There’s no immediate payoff (unless you’re really into watching a number on a screen get bigger every month). The payoff comes when you have an emergency you can handle without going into debt, or not needing a loan because you can pay for a newer car up front, or having an entire down payment for a house, or knowing you can live well in retirement. It’s security, and yes, money can buy that, so start paying yourself first.


Paying yourself first isn’t so bad. Any advice on how you fend off impulse buys and practice paying yourself first? Tell us how what you do to pay the future you!

Condo or condon’t? Is condo living right for you?

Purchasing a house is a huge decision and choosing the type of home you buy adds a whole other layer. Let’s break down all things condos so that you can make sure you think about all the options because after all, you’re the one who will have to live with it – or in this case, in it.


Are you currently considering purchasing a home for the first time? Or are you possibly looking to downsize from a house to a condo? Before making a purchase, especially one as big as a house, it’s important to weigh all the pros and cons. As a current condo owner for the past three years, I’ve started a list of things to consider to help you decide if condo life is right for your lifestyle.

Condo Pros

Condo living comes with a lot of pros – here are some that I would consider positive:

  • Low Maintenance – Condos usually come with snow removal and landscaping built into condo fees.
  • Affordability – Condos tend to be lower in price and newer, so you get more bang for your buck.
  • Amenities – If you get lucky, your condo could have access to some extra amenities, such as a pool, fitness centre, clubhouse, meeting space, BBQ, underground parking, gated community park, etc. These extra amenities could also help you save money on other expenses, like no gym membership or sharing a BBQ.
  • Less Hidden Costs – What you see is what you get with a condo. There are usually no extra costs when it comes to shingle repair, deck, landscaping, etc.
  • Location, Location, Location – Many condos are located close to downtown or commercial developments so you’re usually within walking distance to city attractions.
  • Size – Bigger doesn’t have to be better, especially when it comes to cleaning a big house or buying furniture to fill it. Depending on the condo, they usually give you a good size designed for comfortable living for families while allowing space for storage.
  • Utility Savings – Sometimes utility costs are built into your condo fees which means you share utility costs with your fellow tenants. This can be a blessing or a curse (depending if you have neighbours who love to take 45 minute showers), but by sharing utility costs – you avoid having to pay setup and maintenance fees. You also don’t have to worry about paying multiple bills during the month.
  • Board Experience – Each condo building typically has a Condo Board that makes decisions for your facility like the use of your reserve fund and any increases/decreases to your condo fees. If you are looking to gain Board experience, this is a great place to start while also having a say in what happens in your neighborhood.

Condo Cons

Here are some of the cons that come with condo living that I would suggest you consider before committing to a condo:

  • Close Quarters – You’re usually sharing walls with neighbours resulting in loud distributions and lack of privacy. I used to live beside a neighbour who had a dog that really missed them when they got home from their nightly shift work at 4:00 a.m.
  • Difficulty Re-Selling – Depending on the market, a condo can generally take longer to sell since condo living is not for everyone, market saturation or too many condos are on the re-sale market.
  • Lack of Back Yard – One luxury I wish I had access to would be a bigger back yard. I do have something (and by “something” I mean a strip of shared grass), but it is tough to entertain during the summer when you don’t have access to a large lawn or privacy from your neighbours.
  • Rules – Condos tend to have set rules that vary per condo like “quiet time”, no pets, renovation restrictions, no smoking, etc. unlike living in a stand along home where you are generally free to do what you want to do.
  • Condo Fees – As mentioned in the pros, condos come with condo fees that go towards the building upkeep, shared utilities such as hydro, electric, grounds keeping and a reserve fund for emergencies (although this could be considered a positive – yay for savings!). The older your condo building is, the higher your condo fees can be as there is generally an uptick in the amount of upkeep needed for the building.

When purchasing a home, I highly recommend making a good ol’ fashioned pro and con list for each separate property because it’s highly unlikely you will find a home that has absolutely everything and a list will help weigh your options so you can find out what you can live with and what you can’t live without.


Do you or have you lived in a condo and have any pros and cons to consider? Comment below!

Cracking open the books and not the piggy bank

School is officially back in session – where did summer go?! For some of us ‘older folks’, our university days are a distant memory (some good and some maybe not so good) and like every life moment, they provided us lessons along the way. If you were to ask me “What do you wish you would’ve known back then?”, the answer is simple – pay more attention to your money. So here’s what I wish I would’ve known back in my glory days – four clever ways post-secondary students can save. 


Whether you’re attending post-secondary as a first year, or returning to finish off your education, here are a few tips to consider that will help you manage your money and reduce financial stress.

Budgets do work

Let’s face it, adulting is hard and brings on a whole new set of responsibilities – many of which have a financial component. A budget can help you manage these financial responsibilities by allocating a certain amount of your income to your different expenses such as rent, food, education and entertainment.

As you focus time to spend on your studies, a budget also requires time from you in order to be successful. This includes taking time each month to set your budget and then track your spending to ensure you’re not spending more than you said you would. There are many tools to help you including our Budget Calculator.

Interested, but not sure where to start? Check out our blogs How much should I spend on… and Creating a budget.

Entertainment in moderation

Now I’m not going to be the #NoFunPolice and say don’t go out because that’s not realistic. Going out with friends is fun and can positively impact your well-being. My advice – in your budget, create a category for entertainment/nights out with friends and then do so in moderation as the costs can add up quite quickly. Once you’ve hit your budget for the month, reconsider a night out and see if your friends would prefer to do a night in instead.

When going out for the night with friends, here are a few ways to save and stretch the budget you’ve set:

  • Many restaurants and local bars/pubs have happy hours and different daily specials, helping you to save a few dollars on that fancy drink or food item. Take advantage of these specials because who really doesn’t love a discount such as 1/2 off appies… mmmm nachos (minus the olives – yuck).
  • For each drink you have, drink a glass of water in between and don’t order another drink until your water is done. This will help reduce the number of drinks you purchase, and better yet, help your head from hurting a bit the next morning!
  • Skip the shots! Ordering a round of shots can be quite expensive, especially if ordering multiple rounds. Yes, it may seem like a great idea at the time but once you receive your bill, you may regret that decision. Save your money and just don’t do it – again, your body will thank you the next day.
  • Be the Designated Driver (DD) for the night! If going out is a weekly thing with the same group of friends, create a rotating DD schedule. Not only will this save you money when it’s your turn, but also helps you save money on a ride home each week.

Whatever you choose to do, always remember to plan for a safe ride home – and don’t forget to include this transportation cost into your budget! #MomAdvice #BestAdvice

Take advantage of student discounts

It’s no secret, gas is expensive and parking is even worse. There are a few ways to reduce your transportation expenses including:

  1. Walking or biking, depending on how far you are away from campus;
  2. Public transportation, which several post-secondary institutions include as part of your student fees; or
  3. Carpool with your classmates, allowing you to cost share gas and parking with others. Double-win if they have the same taste in music as you do, as it can make for some great carpool karaoke sessions. ♫Everybody…. Yeah…. Rock your body…. Yeah…. ….Backstreet’s Back Alright

Use credit wisely

It may be exciting if the Saskatchewan Roughriders rack up 35 points in the first half of a game, but maybe not so much if you’re racking up your credit card. Credit cards are a great tool, if used responsibly. They should not be used as a tool to spend money you don’t have, but instead used to make purchases within your budget and help you gain credit.

It may also be tempting to apply for every credit card that comes your way, but this can do a lot of harm to your credit. Check out our Building Blocks of Credit blog to learn more – including good credit behaviours.


These are just a few tips in helping you save and manage your money while attending post-secondary school. Want more? Check out our blog, It doesn’t just need to be ramen noodles, where one of our members shares his experience and advice on managing money will being a full-time post-secondary student.

Are you, or were you, a post-secondary student? I’d love to hear other advice you have or lessons you learned – either the good way or bad way – during this life milestone. Share your experiences and advice in the comments below.

Help! I Need a Mortgage!

Purchasing a home, especially your first, will be one of the most expensive and important purchases of your life. It’s important to understand how the process works and the impact that buying a home can make on your short and long term finances. Follow these three handy tips to see how much house you can afford! 


Did you ever drive around with your parents during the holidays looking for the best lights in town and thought “I wonder how much this actually costs?” Or maybe you’ve started looking at listings in neighborhoods you’d like to live in, only to realize you have no idea how much you can afford? Whatever the case may be, securing a mortgage is an intimidating process. We’re here to help with a three step process that gives you a great starting point for where to go and how to makes sure it fits your budget.

Step 1: Check, Check, Check It Out

Are you ready for this next chapter to begin? It starts with a word that still sends shivers down everyone’s spine after high school… “homework”.

First you’ll need to determine your credit score. I recommend sitting down with your financial advisor who will be able to best accurately determine how much debt you’ll be able to undertake.

Financial advisors use your credit score to determine whether you qualify for a mortgage and how much you will qualify for (alongside the Mortgage Stress Test). An easy way to take a realistic look at your spending patterns is by going through your banking and credit card history. Staying in touch with your current spending habits will prevent any unpleasant surprises when going in to discuss your options with your advisor.  

Step 2: Evaluation Time: What Can You Spend?

Figuring out “how much you can afford to spend” versus “what you should spend” can be hard. Imagine spending your entire budget on your lavish dream home, but you can’t invite anyone over because you don’t have furniture for them to sit on. Compare that with a home within your means that you can afford with furnishings that you, your friends and family will enjoy. Just because you qualify to buy a large house, doesn’t mean you should make yourself “house broke”. If you purchase a home and leave yourself some wiggle room, it’ll give you more flexibility to spend your disposable income on other things such as trips, family, and decor for your new digs! Ask your financial advisor about the lifestyle trade-offs that occur when you take that step to become a homeowner.

I also recommend talking to your financial advisor about creating a budget that provides a holistic picture of your current expenses, long-term expenses, future expenses, and miscellaneous expenses that will come with being a new homeowner. Compare this budget with your current spending habits you identified in step one and you should be able to identify if you can realistically afford the purchase of a home. Need some help? We have some tools to help you create a budget. 

Tip: Practice living on this self-made budget for a while before making the steps to purchase. This way, you know that you can actively save and handle the budget change while making sure it is accurate.

Step 3: What You Should Spend & Knowing the Fees

Time to look at all the fees that come with buying a home! *Gulp* Many of these fees exist on top of the cost of your home so make sure you leave room in your budget.

  • Down payment (at least 5%),
  • Mortgage Default Insurance Premiums
    • Your down payment amount affects the costs associated with your mortgage. The higher your down payment, the less Mortgage Default Insurance Premiums (more commonly known as CMHC). Mortgage Default Insurance Premiums are mandatory in Canada, and are calculated based on your down payment amount. These fees are an insurance on your mortgage. If you can realistically afford putting down a 20% down payment, you can avoid paying CMHC. If you have the means to save for a 20% down payment, it will save you a ton of money.
  • Appraisal fees,
  • Home inspection fees,
  • Land transfer fees, and
  • Lawyer fees (approximately 1.5% of the total cost of your home)

As well, remember that once you buy a place to call home, your total monthly house costs are much more than just your mortgage payment and things like property taxes, home insurance and condo fees should be added to your budget. One of our previous blogs explores the expenses of homeownership.

In Canada, there are guidelines on how much an individual can spend on a house, based on your monthly income. In most cases, it is recommended that your monthly housing costs do not exceed 30-40% of your total gross monthly income. There are many good reasons to stay well under that number, remember, all those pesky fees and your monthly house costs we discussed above? They stack up fast and can leave you “house broke” if you are not careful.


Only you can decide your lifestyle and how much you’re comfortable spending each month, and if having a mortgage payment is right for you. Your finances are one of the most crucial and personal pieces of your life so it is important that you feel confident making the decisions that are right for you!

Are you thinking of purchasing a home? What advice do you have for people looking to buy a home? Share your thoughts in the comments below, it’s on the house!