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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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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.
living room of home filled with moving boxes

5 tips for anyone moving out for the first time

Moving out on your own for the first time can be quite overwhelming, especially when it comes to your finances and all of the extra expenses you now have. Here are some tips for managing your finances when moving out on your own for the first time. 


Moving out on your own for the first time is a big life decision. Like any big life decision, it comes with its own set of challenges and excitements. Often, we focus on the excitement of it all – the freedom we’ll have in our own place, being able to make it our own, and more. Yes, those things are exciting, but what we forget or be naïve to is all the #adulting that comes with it, including all the extra expenses we didn’t have before. Paying rent or a mortgage is often a financial obligation people are aware of before moving out, but what often comes as a shock is the actual costs of maintenance, utilities, insurance, groceries, toiletry items, cleaning supplies and decorative items for your new home – really, a throw pillow is $35?!?

Growing up, my family required everyone to help. Whether you were running small errands to the grocery store, cooking meals or helping clean the house, everyone was expected to do their part. We also talked about money including the importance of budgeting, the difference between wants and needs and spending wisely. Although I did not enjoy this or see it as a good thing back then, I now understand that this was preparing me for the day that I moved out on my own.

This day came just a few months ago for me. Though it’s only been a short time of me being on my own, I’ve learned quite a bit. Here are all of the things I’ve learned and a few tips to anyone considering living on their own for the first time.

Shopping & cooking for yourself

I come from a family of five, all of whom were very active and ran on different schedules. This resulted in having large meals that provided many leftovers for the week. Large meals also meant large grocery hauls and bills. As someone who has very little experience in the kitchen, this was all I knew. Needless to say, the first grocery shopping trip was large and the few meals I cooked on my own were enough to feed my entire neighbourhood. This led to a lot of wasted food by the end of the week.

Tips:

  • Make weekly meal plans. Planning your meals also allow you to make a list of only the items you need. When you go grocery shopping, this will help reduce you from buying things you don’t need and save money. Here’s a tool I use: Mealime, a meal planning app for healthy eating.
  • Use a recipe. Often recipes provide serving sizes which can help you understand how much food you’ll be making. Cut the recipe in half in only cooking for yourself or two of you, helping ensure you’re not wasting a bunch of food

There’s food in the fridge

You know when you were younger, and you’d beg your mom or dad to take you out for food and they’d say no we have food at home? Yeah, I never thought I would have that talk with myself. However, eating out or ordering in all the time can add up quickly especially nowadays with all the food delivery apps available.

  • Don’t give in to cravings. Yes, I agree, movie theatre popcorn is way better and why make it at home when you can have it delivered, right? The reality, that craving will cost about 20X+ what it would cost you to do at home and though you may be craving it, your stomach won’t know the difference.
  • Delete your apps. Gone are the days of waiting on hold to place an order and in are the days of clicking a few buttons, within just a few seconds, to place an order for takeout. Because it has become too easy, we don’t take the time to ask ourselves if ‘we really need this’ or convince ourselves ‘there’s food at home’. By deleting your takeout apps, you’ll be forced to go online or call for takeout, decreasing the convenience and providing you time to rethink your spontaneous takeout purchase.
  • Pinterest is your friend! Cooking supper doesn’t have to be difficult. For someone like me though who doesn’t overly enjoy being in or is comfortable in the kitchen, I’m often tempted to just order in. I’ve quickly realized living on my own that ordering out often is not financially feasible and there are many quick and easy recipes out there – I just need to take the time to find them and make them.

Make a budget & stick to it

A budget can be a great tool for staying in control of your finances. It is something most people know they should be utilizing and to some extent do; however, most often this is a tool we start and then forget about or don’t stay on top of. When you move out, your expenses can quickly feel overwhelming if you don’t know how to manage them. My advice, create a budget and stick to it!

Tips:

  • Create a monthly budget using a budget calculator such as the Conexus Budget Calculator. This calculator allows you to get a clear picture of where you are financially and see how your expenses with within the recommended percentages.
  • In order to stick to your budget is to know what you’re spending. Use an expense tracking app such as Mobills. By tracking my expenses daily, I have forced myself to think about and know where I am spending my money, and not just on the big things like rent.
  • Set monthly goals. By setting goals it will feel like you have something to work towards and can get excited about at the end of each month to see if you achieved your goal. And be realistic; if you set unrealistic expectations this will only deter you from your budget as you might feel discouraged.

Be mindful of your spending

As eluded to above, tracking your daily expenses can be a great way to be more mindful of our spending.

Prior to moving out this is not something I did because it was never a worry of mine. I would buy a pair of shoes or a new sweater and not blink an eye. This quickly changed once I moved out.

Tips:

  • Create a list of wants and needs. Now, I don’t just mean your obvious list of food and shelter, but also all those ‘nice-to-haves’. A new pair of shoes or sweater may be needed, but having a list of wants and needs will help you set priority to your needs. This will help you to think through your purchases instead of impulse buying and can make a big difference.
  • Challenge yourself to no spending. Take the day, week or month off from spending on things you don’t need. Instead of eating out, challenge yourself to only eat at home. Or instead of going out with friends, have a game or movie night in. You’d be surprised how much money you can save this way. And hey, we have a blog on that to show you how!

Turn off the lights!

I don’t know how many times I’d leave the lights on while living at home to hear my Mom yell, “turn the lights off if you’re not in the room!” When we live at home there are many things we take for granted because we aren’t the one having to pay for them. The cost of electricity was something I quickly realized was one of those things.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did know that energy costs money and you need it to power your house. What I didn’t realize though is how my bad habits impacted these costs. Mom was right after all these years – but shhh, don’t tell her I said that!

Tip:

  • Cut your energy costs. Energy costs money and you can control/lesson your bill by watching how much energy you’re using. Check out our Cut Your Energy Costs blog for 8 great tips on how you can reduce your energy consumption. And remember, turn off that light if you don’t need it!

 

Though my parents prepared me for success in the adult world, there were many things I had to learn on my own. #Adulting can be hard, but with a bit of planning, tracking and self-control, at the end of the day it can be fun.

Have you recently moved out on your own, and have learnings of your own? I’d love to hear them – share with me by commenting below.

Pile of sticky notes with New Year resolutions written on them

Adjusting your New Year’s resolutions

If you’re struggling to stick to your resolutions or have already failed trying, don’t give up. Instead, adjust or re-start your resolutions following these tips to help you succeed.


We go into the New Year saying this is going to be the best year yet. And it is…for the first few days anyway. Then the holiday excitement wears off, we go back to our normal routines and continue with the same habits we did before. By mid-January, we start to realize the resolutions we set were a bit more than we could chew and we soon give up on what we said we were going to do.

When it comes to sticking to our New Year’s resolutions, statistics show only 8% of people actually succeed. Why? Often the resolutions we make are unreasonable, unrealistic or we’ve set too many.

Does this sound familiar? If you’re struggling to stick to your resolutions or have already failed trying, don’t give up. Instead, adjust or start your resolution over. The only way to succeed is if you continue trying.

Here are a few tips to keeping your resolutions.

Have an action plan

Resolutions are goals and should have an action plan showing you where you want to go and how you’ll get there. Review these plans every so often and adjust your plan based on your personal situation, helping you to stay on track for success.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

We can only do so much at once. Instead of trying to do everything at once, prioritize your goals in order of what’s most important to you. Focus on completing one or a couple goals at a time to not feel overwhelmed with trying to do it all.

Celebrate the small wins

Create milestones within your plan and celebrate when you achieve them. Smaller goals are easier to reach and help keep you motivated in reaching your goals.

Ask for support

Share your resolutions with your friends and family. Ask them for support and to hold you accountable to these resolutions. Speak to professionals for advice on your goals and tips for achieving them.

Whatever your goal is, it’s important to be agile and take the time to pause and adjust as necessary.  We may only be a few weeks into the New Year, but now is a great time to re-examine your resolutions and make any adjustments to ensure they’re realistic, reasonable and set up for success.

Did you make any New Year resolutions this year? What were they and are you on track to achieving them? What are some of the challenges you’ve come across? Share by commenting below.

couple sitting on couch, looking at a computer

10 ways to take control of your finances

A New Year means resolutions and often times have a financial component to them. Here are 10 ways you can take control of your finances this coming year.


New Year. New financial you.

It’s hard to believe the New Year has already begun. With a New Year often comes resolutions – creating a plan for the future using lessons from the past – and many times have a financial component to them.

Here are 10 ways you can take control of your finances this coming year.

1. Set goals

We all have dreams of what we want to do and what we want to achieve. Make these dreams a reality by setting goals to achieve them. Organize your goals by priority and be sure they’re realistic and achievable. Tip: Start small. Small goals are easier to reach and help train your brain into believing you can achieve it, increasing your chance for success of future goals. Get started by checking out our Goal Setting Blog.

2. Take action

It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something and actually doing it. Put action to your words by creating an action plan setting dates you want to achieve parts/milestones of your goal by. Hold yourself accountable and reward yourself when achieving each milestone helping you to keep motivated.

3. Create a budget

A budget helps you manage your money, showing you how much you’re bringing in each month and where you plan on spending your money. It can help you not spend above your means and focus on what’s important to you. To make budgeting easier for you, we recommend using our online Budget Calculator.

4. Track your spending

By tracking every nickel you spend, you’re able to get an accurate picture of your spending habits – sometimes it can be very shocking how quickly or how much your purchases add up. Tracking your spending will also help you create a more precise budget based on your spending habits and allow you to identify areas where you may need to change your spending behaviours.

5. No-spend challenges

Each month challenge yourself to a spending freeze for a day, weekend or even the full month for all non-essential items. Or pick a different non-essential category to not spend on such as ‘No Eating Out March’.

We recommend challenging yourself for a day or weekend if doing for the first time. Check out our No-Spend Weekend Challenge Blog helping you succeed in taking an entire weekend off from spending.

6. Save for an emergency

Life can sometimes throw us a curveball, threatening our financial well-being and causing us stress. Set money aside each month into an emergency savings fund for those unexpected life events. Having a fund ensures if your car breaks down or your furnace goes in the middle of winter that you’re prepared and gives you peace-of-mind knowing you won’t need to stress trying to find money to cover these unexpected expenses.

7. Prepare for retirement

We all dream of the day we’ll retire – no more alarm clock, being able to take a nap whenever we’d like and playing that golf game on a Wednesday afternoon. Being able to retire the way we want though requires some planning in advance. Start preparing now by checking out our blog, Retirement: will you have enough?

8. Save your extra money

Throughout the year we come across extra money such as an income tax return or a cheque from our Grandma for our birthday. Though we may be tempted to treat ourselves, consider putting any extra, unexpected money you come across into savings – you’ll thank yourself at the end of the year when you have extra savings in the bank!

9. Invest in a TFSA

A tax-free savings account (TFSA) is a great way to save for just about anything, whether it be a short-term or long-term goal. What you save is not tax deductible nor are you taxed when you withdraw your earnings. As well, in 2019 contribution maximums have increased to $6,000. Learn more here.

10. Plan/review your estate

We often think that planning our estates is something we do when we’re older but in fact, everyone young or old should have an estate plan in place in case something unexpected were to happen to us. Having an estate plan helps our loved ones understand our wishes and how to carry them out if we were to pass. This can include naming guardians for children, instructions for your burial/cremation and how you’d like your property divided up and should be updated at each life event such as marriage, children, divorce, retirement, etc. Start your plan by speaking with a local estate planner or lawyer today.

A New Year symbolizes a fresh start and new beginnings. Hopefully, these quick tips help you feel more prepared to take on the new year and take control of your finances. For more financial advice, we encourage you to check out some of our other blogs or contact us today to set up an appointment with a financial advisor.

building with credit union logo

Why I made the switch to a credit union

Not happy with your bank, but scared to make the switch? Read the experiences of one of our members who recently switched financial institutions after realizing her bank was not helping her to achieve her financial goals.


My financial institution was determined at a young age and like most, who I banked with was the same as my parents. As I got older, my banking needs changed yet I continued to bank with the same financial institution. Was my inherited bank actually doing what I needed it to though?

I started to realize how important this decision was. As I’m trusting an institution with my hard earned money, it shouldn’t be about staying with the bank that was chosen for me but instead being sure that who I was banking with was an institution that met my financial needs. That’s when I began to understand what type of bank I needed for me, and if I needed to make a change.

What I took into consideration

  • Is my bank listening to me and addressing the financial needs that benefit me – not my bank?
  • What are my financial goals and how is my bank helping me to achieve these?
  • Does my banks’ values align with my personal values?
  • How is my bank contributing to my local community?

I soon came to realize that I didn’t have a relationship with my bank. My account was very transactional but the bank never made me feel like I was anything but a number. I did some research about other financial institutions and through this research, I discovered a few key differences between credit unions and banks.

Here’s what I learned.

  • Credit unions are member-owned while banks are owned by its shareholders. What this means is you have a say on how your credit union operates while banks answer to its shareholders.
  • Credit union profits go back to their members such as offering No-Fee Chequing Accounts.  They also invest their profits back into the local community. Bank profits are paid to their shareholders and your local community rarely benefits.
  • Credit unions are driven by their members. They take the time to listen, ask questions and help you achieve your financial goals. You are their number one priority.
  • Credit unions have a one team model approach and are all part of the Ding Free network, allowing members to access a number of ATMs across Canada for free. With banks, you can only use their products and services and you will be charged for using other banks’ resources.

Overall, the biggest thing I learned was that credit unions and banks offer similar products and services. The way they operate though and treat their members are different. To learn more about the differences between credit unions and banks, I recommend checking out Credit unions vs banks: What’s the difference?

After considering what my current bank offers and evaluating the difference between credit unions and banks, I wondered why I hadn’t started looking into this earlier. Why hadn’t I made the switch – by switching to a credit union, I’d be able to save $185 each year just in bank fee savings – so what was holding me back?

My fears

  • Time! I didn’t want to spend a lot of time having to switch all my payments over or learning a new bank’s products such as mobile and online banking.
  • Was it really worth the effort to make the switch? How much work was involved?
  • What if I missed payments due to the switch resulting in added interest or canceled services.
  • Would I have to give up my credit card? I liked the credit card that I had at my other bank and didn’t want to cancel it.

I started to realize that most of my “fears” were excuses and if I really wanted to take control of my finances I needed to take the time to invest in myself. Ultimately, I liked how a credit union was local and I felt that their values aligned to my personal values. I decided to reach out to Conexus Credit Union, and after speaking with a financial advisor I soon realized they really did care about my overall financial well-being and knew that it was time to make the break up with my current bank and make the switch.

Making the switch

Switching over to Conexus was quite easy, especially with their tool called Click Switch. It allowed me to switch over all of my payments within a few minutes and just the click of a few buttons. My fear of time quickly disappeared.

Tips

If you’re like me and some of your fears include missing a payment due to switching or losing a credit card you love, consider some of the tips below before making the switch.

  • Do not close your current bank account until all of your payments are switched over. Keep the account open for a few months to ensure you haven’t missed anything.
  • Leave a small amount of money in your old account to cover any payments you may have missed switching over to avoid non-sufficient funds.
  • You don’t have to switch everything over at once. It’s perfectly fine to keep your loans or mortgages with your old bank until they expire or are paid off.
  • You can keep your current credit card if you’re not wanting to depart from it quite yet. Check to see if you can link your credit card from another bank to your new credit union account. This will allow you to still view your credit card balance in your new account and help you manage your finances in one spot.
  • If you are looking at getting a new loan to pay out a previous loan at your bank, make sure you get all of your approvals and payout amounts first before closing out your account or changing your direct deposit.

In the end, I made the decision to move to a credit union because I believed in their values as an organization. I felt it was easier to have an open and trusting conversation and it saved me money on bank fees. Ultimately, when determining your financial institution consider how your financial institution can impact your overall financial well-being. For me, choosing a credit union was the perfect fit.

List of payments

How much money should I spend on…

Where should you be spending your money? This blog shares the recommended percentages on where you should be spending your money on things such as housing, transportation and more.


 

A budget is a plan that can prioritize your money. It allows you to see how much money you’ll bring in each month (income) and where you plan on spending (expenses) your money. It also allows you to understand where you may be able to decrease budget within some categories such as living expenses or increase your budget in other categories such as savings. Most importantly, it helps to set a plan to not spend above your means.

A budget can also help you see what percentage of your income you’re spending within the different expense categories. Below we break down the different expense categories and the recommended percentage of income you should be spending within each.

Housing

We recommend keeping your housing expenses to 30-40% of your income. Housing expenses include your mortgage/rent, condo fees, property taxes, insurance, maintenance and utility payments.

One popular rule of thumb says that you should set aside 1% of your home’s value each year for ongoing maintenance (vent cleaning, paint refresh, etc.). For example, if your home is worth $250,000, you should budget $2,500 each year for maintenance. We recommend setting money aside each month into a savings account to cover these maintenance costs when they occur. Doing so, will help you be prepared for those larger expenses and not be ‘scrambling’ to find money within your budget to cover a large expense.

Though many of these expenses are fixed, meaning you can’t change the expense amount, there are a few ways you can reduce these expenses. Consider reducing the amount you use/spend on utilities. This can include installing a rain barrel to collect rainwater to water your yard or trying out one of these eight energy-saving tips.

Transportation

We recommend keeping your transportation expenses to 10-20% of your income. Expenses in this category include vehicle loans, gas, insurance and maintenance.

Some ways to reduce expenses in this category include using city transit, carpooling or saving on gas by using GasBuddy.com to tell you where the nearest and cheapest gas stations are.

Living expenses

For living expenses, we recommend keeping to 20-30% of your income. These expenses include childcare, groceries, eating out, entertainment, phone, personal care, clothing, gifts, donations, medical, etc. Though there are a lot of expenses in this category, many of these are variable expenses meaning they can be adjusted based on your financial situation.

You may not be able to change your childcare fees, but expenses related to groceries, eating out, entertainment, phones, etc. can be adjusted. Things such as cooking at home vs. going out to eat or picking a smaller cable package or cell phone package are all ways to help reduce these expenses.

Budgeting doesn’t mean you can’t have fun but instead helps you be aware of how you’re spending your money and to treat yourself in moderation and within your means. Here are a few creative alternatives to consider to help keep expenses down within these categories.

Debt repayment

If you have debt, such as a balance on a line of credit or credit card, we recommend keeping your debt repayments at 10-20% of your income.

It may be tempting to reduce expenses in this category before others when adjusting your budget, but we recommend trying to reduce elsewhere, like your living expenses before adjusting these expenses. Setting 10-20% of your income towards paying off your debt sets a plan in action for eliminating your debt and helps towards your financial freedom.

It’s important to always budget money to ensure your debt’s monthly minimum payment is covered and then apply extra money to your debt to reduce the amount owed even faster. For additional advice and tips on eliminating debt, we recommend checking out our Eliminating Debt blog.

Savings

For savings, we recommend putting 10% or more of your income into savings each month. This includes savings for your goals (short-term, intermediate and long-term), retirement, emergency savings, RESPs and more.

This category is truly about being sure to pay yourself first. Not sure what we’re talking about – discover more here.

To make budgeting easier for you, we recommend checking out our online Budget Calculator. All you have to do is insert your monthly income, expenses and savings and you’ll get a clear picture of where you are financially. You’ll also be able to see how your expenses fit within the recommended percentages we just discussed.

At the end of the day, setting a budget can help you stay focused on what’s important and give you guidelines on how you’ll spend your money. As for ensuring you stick to this budget though, that will be up to you.

weights at a gym

Choosing a gym membership right for you

Finding the right gym or fitness program can be difficult. Here are a few tips and tricks to find a place that fits you and your budget.


As February continues, your New Year’s resolution motivation of going to the gym more often may be starting to wear off so finding a gym or workout routine that works for you and that you enjoy will help keep that motivation to continue going.  Here are some tips and tricks that can help you find a gym or fitness program for you and your budget.

Be sure to:

Do your research – With many different gym or fitness program options, doing your research and looking at reviews is so important! Narrow your search by making a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves to see what’s important to you. Use existing members or friends as a resource and ask them what they like and dislike about it.

Try before you buy – Almost all gyms and fitness studios offer trial periods allowing you time to assess the machines, amenities, cleanliness, etc. Fitness studios such a spin, yoga, or barre usually offer a discount or free pass to test out their different classes. Take advantage of these trial periods to find the gym or fitness studio perfect for you.

Be aware of contracts & fees – Be aware of extra fees and contract details before signing up. Can you pay monthly or do you need to commit to a year as a member? Are there any penalties to break your contract? Any hidden annual maintenance fees? Getting all the information up front will help you choose a gym that fits your lifestyle and your budget.

Assess:

Value vs. quantity – Track how often you’re going to the gym or fitness studio to determine if a punch pass or monthly pass is best for you. Punch passes are great if you’re not going often, but if you’re going frequently ensure you’re not paying more for punch passes than if you were to buy an unlimited monthly pass. Also, as a bonus, an unlimited pass may come with perks such as discounts on fees and merchandise, specialized classes, waiver of late cancel fees, extra perks such as towel or refreshment services and more! Find out what you get for each level of membership, so you can decide what’s a must have or nice to have.

Location – It’s no secret that the more convenient something is the more likely you will be inclined to attend. When picking a gym, it’s best to consider location convenient of when you’re most likely to work out. If you plan on working out over your lunch break at work or school, select a gym that’s close to there. If evenings and weekends are your preference, you should select a gym that’s close to home. On days when you’re crunched for time, having a gym close by will make things easier on your schedule.

One size doesn’t fit all – Just because your friends enjoy a particular workout, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll love it. You need to find the right workout for you, so you can enjoy being there and see the value in spending the money on your fitness.

Detail orientated – When you walk into a potential gym, pay attention to all the details. Is the lighting too bright? Too dim? Is the music too loud? Are classes too crowded? Overall cleanliness? Are machines broken down? Things that may not seem important during your initial tour can become major annoyances in the future.

In the end, the most important thing to consider is if you’re at a place you enjoy going to and one that fits your budget. Fitness shouldn’t cause extra stress, instead, it should help relieve stress so taking your budget and lifestyle into consideration is key to finding the right place for you.

Do you have any tips on selecting the right workout routine? Share them with us!