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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.

Recovering Canceled Travel Costs During COVID-19

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


Cancelling a trip due to COVID-19

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

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

Flights & Accommodations

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

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

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

Tickets

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

  1. StubHub
  2. Ticketmaster
  3. Vivid Seats

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

Staycation anyone?

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

Staycation

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

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

Travel within Saskatchewan 

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

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

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

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

What to know about credit card chargebacks

Government of Canada: Travel and Tourism

How does COVID-19 affect how you renew your mortgage?

COVID-19 has changed the way we do many things and renewing your mortgage during this time is no different. Thankfully, if you have a good relationship with your lender, the process is relatively seamless and easy to do while practicing social distancing.


Renewing your Mortgage during COVID-19

By law, lenders must give you 21 days’ notice of renewal before the term of your mortgage is up, but if you would like to plan ahead like I do, you should start thinking about the renewal process 120 days before that renewal date. Most lenders will send you their best offer 30 days before the renewal date but starting early gives you some time to really determine what might work best for you and your family. Whether you are looking for a quick renewal of your current mortgage or you are interested in shopping around for the best rate – there are a few things you should keep in mind to set you up for the next 1-5-10 years of home ownership.

How does money affect the mortgage?

If COVID-19 has had an impact on you financially, it might be time to re-visit your household budget. If you took your mortgage over a 5-year term, a lot can change in that time so you should know what kind of flexibility you have in your monthly finances. Some things to consider:

  • What are your financial goals? For a lot of families, COVID-19 has increased the importance of setting up emergency savings. Keeping your mortgage payments small might help you set up that emergency savings in case of another pandemic or job disruption. If retirement is on the horizon and your investments fell during this time, it might be possible to increase your payments while you’re still working. This will allow you to pay the mortgage off faster so that you are mortgage free once you are on a fixed income.
  • Have you received a sum of money such as bonus or inheritance? Consider applying that to your mortgage principle at the same time. Not only could this reduce your payment, but this pays your mortgage off faster and saves you interest. The tricky part is not convincing yourself that this new windfall gain should be spent on a new vacation!
  • Are there some renovations or home improvements that you’ve got the time to accomplish? You could consider increasing the amount you renew your mortgage for to cover the costs of the shingles or finally heating your garage.

Choose the correct term length for you

One of the biggest considerations is the term of your mortgage. Mortgage terms can vary from 1-10 years with the average being 5 years. If you think that you might want to sell your house in the next 5 years, taking your mortgage over a shorter term will help you avoid any costly early-payout penalties from your lender.

Adjusting your payment frequency to match your financial situation is also a change you may want to consider. Bi-weekly payments that match your pay schedule can pay off your mortgage sooner and decreases the amount of interest that you pay in the long run. A monthly payment may make it easier for you to budget during the month. Each option is unique to you and what makes the most sense for your budget.

How COVID-19 has affected interest rates

If there is a bright side of COVID-19, interest rates have fallen significantly since March, making it a great time to renew your mortgage with a low interest rate. The Bank of Canada’s overnight rate is 1.75%*, allowing lenders to offer mortgages just above Prime at 2.89%* for a 5-year fixed rate mortgage.(as of June 9, 2020. Interest rates are based off of your credit score and may vary).

There are traditionally two types of interest rates, fixed and variable and what works best for you is largely based on your own situation:

Fixed: Most borrowers like the idea of having a fixed mortgage rate to limit any surprises in their budget. Especially if you are recovering from job disruption due to COVID-19, a fixed rate is probably your best option.

Variable: Variable rates are attractive because they are often lower than fixed rate mortgages. A variable rate is usually stable, but it is based off the Prime Rate. If the Bank of Canada increases the overnight rate, it pushes the prime rate up, thus increasing variable rates. If your budget can accommodate some flexibility, choosing a variable rate can save you some money over time.

Try shopping around

If you aren’t happy with your current lender, or see a low rate at another bank, renewing your mortgage is an opportunity to shop around. However, COVID-19 has impacted lives in many ways, so be sure to consider your personal situation before making the switch.

If you haven’t applied for a mortgage since October 2018, you are now required to pass the mortgage stress test when applying for a new mortgage or switching lenders. The stress test ensures that borrowers can afford the mortgage that they are applying for by qualifying them at a higher interest rate. The good news is, the Bank of Canada reduced the greater qualifying rate from 5.04% to 4.94% making it easier to qualify for financing. The greater qualifying rate is only to ensure that you can afford your mortgage, the interest rate you will pay are usually lower than this.

If you are considering switching lenders, there may also be some penalties that you have to pay to move your mortgage. Switching within the 120-day window should avoid early payout penalties. Some other fees to consider are appraisal fees, set-up fees for transferring your mortgage and other administration fees. Part of the power of shopping around is that you can ask for these fees to be covered from your new lender which will save you some cash.

How COVID-19 has affected mortgage applications

The pandemic has changed the way that lenders review applications and could make it harder to access funding when renewing your mortgage. Lenders are reviewing any applications under a microscope so it is important to have your documents in order prior to applying for financing. Income statements, business plans for self-employed applicants and personal net worth statements are some of the documentation that may be required.

If you’ve had to defer payments due to COVID-19, you may have to catch up on those payments before being able to switch lenders. This could come at a major one-time cost so be sure to talk to your current lender about what that cost may be.

Finally, the #1 thing that you can do to set yourself up for success while renewing your mortgage during COVID-19 is to reach out to your Financial Advisor. They can complete a review of your finances and your unique situation in order to give you advice on what the best route is for you.

How to Support Local in Saskatchewan Without Breaking Your Bank

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


The Impacts of COVID-19

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

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

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

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

“Where do I even begin?”

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

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

Shop Local

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

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

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

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

Word of Mouth

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

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

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

Donate to a local non-profit or charity

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Sask Travel on a Budget

To all the prairie dwellers, flatlanders, and those who love the land of living skies… let’s talk about travelling Saskatchewan and saving money! I love Saskatchewan,  the prairies and travelling around our great province. I also love saving money and how cheap travelling Saskatchewan can be! If you’re still saving for that big European trip, but need a little R&R in the meantime, look no further than a couple hours out your front door!


Before we get travelling, you might be asking yourself “Why would Conexus, a ‘financial institution’, post a blog about travelling Saskatchewan?” It’s simple really…because we love Saskatchewan just as much as you do! We also know that money is more than just paychecks, mutual funds, mortgages, loans, and “grown-up stuff” but it’s about living life well…and well, we live in Saskatchewan, so why not showcase it!

Let’s Travel Saskatchewan and Save Some Money!

#1: Ellisboro Trail
Price: $50-$100 (more if you’re buying antiques)

Qu'appelle Valley Ellisboro Trail Bridge

Qu’Appelle Valley Ellisboro Trail Bridge

The Ellisboro Trail is a valley drive through the heart of the Qu’Appelle Valley between Fort Qu’Appelle and Rocanville. The trail has entry/exit points off the TransCanada Highway near Indian Head, Wolseley, Grenfell, Broadview, Whitewood and Moosomin. The entire drive takes about 4 hours. From Fort Qu’Appelle to the village of Ellisboro is 78 km (for a shorter length) The drive is full of old bridges, towns, and the occasional abandoned house (one of which is a movie set built for the movie: The Messengers, starring Kristen Stewart – the girl from Twilight.)

Things to see:

  • Lebret Antique Store
  • Katepwa Beach
  • Old Churches/House/Post Office/School Houses
  • Old Bridges
  • Town of Ellisboro/Tantallon

Places to Eat:

  • Wolseley Tilli-Beans Bakery & Coffee Shop
  • Katepwa Beach Bar
  • Fort Qu’Appelle Restaurants
  • Rocanville Restaurants
  • Or pack a picnic and stop along the drive for a lunch

#2: Castle Butte
Price: $50-$60 (excluding a packed lunch)

Photo credits: Tourism SK.

Two hours south of Regina, SK. Castle Butte is the mountain of Saskatchewan! This is a quick drive for anyone in South Saskatchewan. Before you head this way, make sure you have a full tank of gas. Pack a lunch, grab your hiking shoes, your flashlight for the caves and a bit of cash to spend at the Aust General Store in Big Beaver, SK who’s slogan is: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”. This area of the province is also home to St. Victor Petroglyph’s, and the South Prairie Railway A train ride will cost you more than $60, but it’s worth it.

#3: The Maple Creek Weekend Tour
Price: $300 – $500 (depending on family size)

Ghost Town Blues B&B

First off – I would recommend this during the summer. If you’re on the South West side of Saskatchewan, then one of the best drives is what I like to call the Maple Creek Weekend Tour. I call it this, because that’s where I usually start in Maple Creek. After a good rest at the Ghost Town Blues B&B and a stop in Maple Creek for lunch or supper it’s time to hit the 614 down past East End (if you’re into Dinosaurs, you’ll want to stop here) to the #18 Highway. Travel East while taking in the quint essential small towns of Saskatchewan. your next stop will be Grasslands National Park!  This is a great stop to camp or just go for a hike. Once in the area, you can stay overnight, or check out the B&B’s in Val Marie, SK. The final end of the loop is Swift Current for a quick gas up/food stop and homeward.

#4: Winter Hiking/Camping (because we live in SK)
Price: $50 – $100 (depending on how much food you need)

Moose Lodge in Duck Mt

This is not for the faint of heart, however, if you like rustic hiking, back-packing, and FREE, then you’ll love this. Not only does Duck Mountain Provincial Park have summer camping, but they also have winter cross country skiing/hiking trails with little cabins scattered throughout the trails. The cabins are traditionally used for day hikers, but are great for staying the night, and they’re FREE! As long as you’re okay with a bit of company stopping through in the morning, you’ll be fine. The cost is the gas to get to Duck Mt. and the food you pack in with you. The evenings spent in these warm, non-electric, wood stove huts are amazing. While the trail offers several accommodations, my favorite is Moose Lodge. The short 5 km hike in from the parking lot at Batka Lake is worth every step. This truly is a place “where peace is undisturbed”.

#5: Beaches, Towns, and Parks
Price: Varies depending on length and events.

Regina Beach, SK

Let’s be honest, Saskatchewan has amazing beaches, towns and parks. Living near Regina, there are countless of beaches and resorts within an hour drive. Across the province you can take a weekend enjoying the cliffs of Cypress Hills, hike to Grey Owl Cabin in Waskesiu, enjoy mini-golf at Rowan’s Ravine, relax at Grasslands National Park, enjoy a Drive-In-Movie at Moose Mt. Provincial Park, or drive up to Green Water for fishing or snowmobiling. Not only does Saskatchewan boast plenty of camping and parks, but our small towns are loaded with music folk festivals, harvest days, parades, local restaurants (see list below), B&B’s, Scarecrow festivals, Winter Festivals and so much more! Whatever you’re into, sometimes all you need to do is step out your back door. I mean, we can see our dog run away for days, why not follow him on the adventure.

Here’s a list of some great Saskatchewan small town restaurants

**In alphabetical order**

  • 641 (Craven, SK)
  • Blue Bird (Regina Beach, SK)
  • Cafe de Paris (Gravelbourg, SK)
  • Free Bird (Lumsden, SK)
  • The Happy Nun (Forget, SK)
  • Little Red Market Cafe (Mortlach, SK)
  • Sister’s Boutique & Bistro (Montmarte, SK)
  • Star Cafe & Grill (Maple Creek, SK)

All recommendation, including businesses and parks, are based on actually experiences from the author and are free of endorsement or sponsorship.  The goal of this blog is to highlight, ways to save money while travelling Saskatchewan and help promote curiosity to travel Saskatchewan. 

We highly encourage you to add your own comments of great places to travel, eat, and explore in Saskatchewan below!

Yes, Couponing is Still a Thing!

Lady Gaga, Kristen Bell, Hilary Swank, Kourtney Kardashian and me. What do we all have in common? The love of a good deal through couponing! Couponing has come a long way from sitting around the Sunday paper with your grocery list and your scissors risking a paper cut, which is still a 100% legit option and something I do every so often. Now, you can find coupons for restaurants and services and experiences and tons of different options to get a great deal and try new things that fit your lifestyle.

Want to try new things and pay less? Here’s how you can keep up with the Joneses while paying like the Smiths!


Daily Deals – why pay more for something you’re going to do anyway?

Do you remember when Groupon first came out and then every day after there was another site launching that offered daily deals or group discounts? At the end of it, in Canada, 33 different sites had been launched. Of those, there are still 5 that are not only existing, but going strong! And why? Because people love a good deal! I’ll admit it, I sometimes forget about Groupon but then when I rediscover it, it’s a gold mine. This past year, I’ve gotten huge discounts on restaurants, massages, wrapped canvas prints, scent diffusers and much more. It was great, because I was already planning on paying for these things, but because of the deals I got, I was able to save money and do even more than I expected. Another great thing about these programs is that you can check them out online or just download the app, so you can find deals on the go.

Tip: Know what you want to buy friends and family, or yourself, as a gift? Planning a date night? Need to get a massage? Planning on spending money on anything? Check if there are any Daily Deals first as flash sales typically offer a higher discount since they are only offered for a limited time!

Trying New Things – it’s all the rage

Another great thing to use Daily Deals for is to find new experiences or things to do where you live or when you’re travelling. I recently went to Las Vegas, and because of Groupon, we saved money on shows, discovered new restaurants and spent a lot less than we thought we would. This meant we had some extra money for the outlets, where we used a coupon book, of course, to score even better deals. Using a Daily Deal is a great way for you to find out about events going on and get ideas for things to do when travelling to a new place, all for a discounted price!

Moving to a new place? Daily Deals can even help you meet people! When I moved to Australia, I didn’t know anyone. Fortunately, a few of the daily deal sites had group meet up events sponsored by local pubs. Not only did I get to check out a new place, I got to make a few friends too.

Supporting Local – discovering hidden gems in your backyard

Wherever you live, I’m sure you have some great, local businesses that you don’t even know about, or haven’t visited lately. When new businesses, or even those who’ve been around for a while, are looking to increase business and get their name out there, many will advertise on Daily Deals. Purchasing a deal will allow you to not only save some money, but maybe discover your new “favourite place”. Looking at Groupon today, you can find deals for spa services, rock chip repair, boot camps, tastings, oil changes, scavenger hunts and hundreds of others that are local to your community. Chances are good if you want to check something new out, or there’s something you have to do, like get an oil change, there’s a daily deal for you!

Here are some of my favourite daily deal sites:

Groupon https://www.groupon.com/

WagJag https://www.wagjag.com/

Living Social https://www.livingsocial.com/

Tip: It’s not a good deal if you wouldn’t normally spend money on it. I know first-hand how exciting it is to see a great sale and how tempting it can be to purchase it (just ask my very full closets) but if you’re just buying it because it’s a good deal, it’s not worth it. Although it’s possible to sign up for emails from these sites, and generally I would encourage it, you need to make sure that whatever you’re spending still fits into your budget.

To find out some great tips when entering into the world of extreme, or just every-so-often, couponing, check out this site!

Honey – can we coupon?

Sometimes finding the right coupon can be time consuming and tedious. A simple way to save money on things you are already shopping for is to download an extension for your browser that scours the internet for discount codes on products you are already looking at. For instance, an extension named Honey has saved me so much money when I’m online shopping on things like soccer cleats, headphones and even dog food by finding me coupon codes to apply at checkout.

There is no better feeling when shopping than getting to the checkout counter and the person at the till says “This is actually on sale for an additional 20% off!” This extension pretty much does the exact same thing for you!

Whether you’re looking for a gift, planning date night or looking to try something new, hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas how to find a great deal and save some money. Now we’d love to hear from you, what’s the best deal you’ve scored? Let us know in the comments below!

Top 5 Strategies to Pay Off Your Debt

Believe me, I know – if you’re in debt, whether it’s big or little, getting started on paying it off can be overwhelming. Here are my top five strategies to get you started and moving in the right direction and tackle that debt. Find a strategy that works for you and stick with it!


1. Pay off your most expensive debt first

If you have one particular debt with a super high interest rate, try making that debt your priority. You’ll need to maintain minimum payments on your other debts, but really putting everything you can into your most expensive debt will help to make your overall future debt less. The power of compound interest means that this debt has the possibility to grow the fastest, so eliminating it first is a solid step in the right direction.

2. Pay off your smallest debt first

This is a strategy for when you really need a win to get you motivated. By maintaining minimum payments on all of your debts and focusing on the one that will be the fastest to pay off, you’ll quickly get a little victory to keep you moving forward with the rest of your debt repayment plan.

3. The cash diet

Especially if you can get yourself into trouble with a credit or even debit card, the cash diet is a strategy where your budget becomes absolute law. You plan your budget (give our budget calculator a try), then take out cash to see you through a set amount of time like a week or the whole month. Once the cash is gone, that’s the end of your spending. It’s helpful to break up the cash into your individual budgets for things like groceries, gas, or pet expenses.

4. Use a tool to track your spending

If you’re struggling to find the money to pay off your debt, knowing exactly where all of your money goes is an important first step on finding room in your budget. Use our spending analysis tool or there are lots of great free apps that you can hook up to your bank account and credit cards that will track and categorize every transaction. Maybe you’ll realize you’re spending $30 a month on subscriptions you don’t even use, or that your grocery budget is way more than you thought it was. Knowledge is power, and with detailed knowledge of your spending, you can build better habits and cut out excess. For recommendations on how much of your income should go to which areas of your life, check out our how much money should I spend blog.

5. Ask for help

The burden of debt is worse if you’re suffering in silence. Talking to your friends, family, partner, or trusted mental health professional about how you want to start tackling your debt can help to make the stress more manageable. You can also talk to a financial expert, like one at Conexus, on your best path forward, and they can even help you refine your game plan. You can also talk to your creditors. It’s worth a phone call to see if any of your creditors are able to lower your interest rates, especially if you’ve been keeping up with minimum payments.

Debt is personal, so any strategy for tackling it that will work for you is the right strategy!

What debt strategy have you found success with? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

A woman is making an online purchase and is holding her credit card in her hand and entering her credit card number

The Real Cost of Carrying a Balance on a Credit Card

Do you know what it actually costs when you carry a balance on your credit card?
We’ve broken it down and even have a tool to figure out how long it might take you to pay off your balance.


Balance is a good thing… right?

Sometimes because of unexpected costs or not enough planning, you end up carrying a balance on your credit card. But what, exactly, does it cost when you don’t pay your credit cards in full each month?

Let’s start by defining a few important terms when it comes to credit:

Principal – The amount you originally borrowed. Yes, anything you spend on your credit card is borrowed money.

Interest – What your credit card charges you for the privilege of borrowing money. This is usually presented as an annual percentage rate.

Compound Interest – Interest that is added to your principal … which is then charged interest. Interest on your interest is how credit card debt can stack up so quickly.

Minimum Payment – The smallest amount of money you can pay in order to keep your credit card and not damage your credit score.

Credit Score – This is essentially a measure of how good you are at fulfilling your financial commitments. A good credit score can help you buy a house or a car, get a loan, start a business, or even get you better interest rates.

Interest grows your debt

Let’s use an example. Say you’ve got $1,000 on a credit card with a 19% interest rate. That’s not bad, right? $1,000 isn’t that much at all, and 19% is a pretty standard interest rate. So, let’s say you put $20 each month toward paying off that debt, which is an approximate minimum payment. Do you want to know how long it would take to pay that balance off? More than eight years! And what would it cost you? About $997, which is basically doubling your debt load! And that’s with only paying off your principal with no additional borrowing.

With compound interest, every dollar you leave on your credit card ends up costing you more and more. It’s a powerful thing that can be used to your advantage when it comes to saving, but that’s another blog post.

The example above is just that, an example, but you can use our repayment calculator to help you figure out exactly what your debt might cost you.

A credit card can be good

There’s an obvious solution here, right? Just don’t get a credit card!

Well … it’s not quite that simple. In order to build credit, you need to use credit. So, if you hope to own a home one day, or even get a car loan, you’ll have to work to build your credit. The best way to do this is to use your credit card and pay off the entire balance each month.

Some good tips on using credit with care are:

  • Keep your credit limit sensible
  • Use credit cards for recurring payments that are a regular part of your budget
  • Plan for larger purchases
  • Use credit cards to build good credit within your budget, not as a tool to spend more than you earn
  • If you can’t trust yourself with your cards, leave them at home

See how long it’ll take to pay off your credit card balance

Credit is an important part of your financial life, but carrying a balance, or not managing it well can lead to a struggle with debt. Try our repayment calculator and remember that debt is something that can happen to any of us, so never be embarrassed to talk about it.

Did you learn something about credit cards? Are there other questions you still have about them? Let’s talk about it in the comments.