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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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