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How Take-Out Almost Took Out My Budget

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


Step One is Admitting the Problem

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

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

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

Basic Budgeting Facts

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

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

Recommended percentages of spending:

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

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

Weekly Meal Prepping Pays Off

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

Ask For The Receipt

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

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

Leave Room for Buffer, Not Guilt

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

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


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

The Key To Basic Savings

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


The “End of the Month” Trap

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

How Much to Save

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

Find Your Motivation

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

Keep it Visible

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

Start Today

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


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

Help! I Need a Mortgage!

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


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

Step 1: Check, Check, Check It Out

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

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

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

Step 2: Evaluation Time: What Can You Spend?

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

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

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

Step 3: What You Should Spend & Knowing the Fees

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

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

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

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


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

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

4 Quick Tips to Save on Insurance

Home insurance. Life insurance. Car insurance. All important to have, ensuring you’re financially protecting yourself in case of emergency. With each insurance type comes many different options as well as a number of ways you can save. Here are a few savings tips and advice to look into when purchasing (or renewing) insurance.

Home savings that can be spent elsewhere

A part of homeownership includes purchasing home insurance to ensure you’re covered for loss or damage to your property due to unforeseen situations. Home insurance is a must, especially if you live in a condo, townhouse or apartment and share walls with a neighbour. You may trust yourself to not start a fire but you never know when your neighbour will find a way to set a bowl of ramen noodles ablaze. Some insurance companies offer different discounts to help reduce the cost of your home insurance including discounts for:

  • Having a monitored security system
  • Being claims-free for several years
  • Your age and the number of years you’ve been with the company
  • Having a good credit score

A big misconception that comes with buying insurance is that it is a standardized rate among all suppliers. When choosing home insurance, be sure to shop around for the best rates and ask what discounts each company can offer you.

Safe driving does pay off

SGI’s Safe Driver Recognition program rewards drivers with a discount on their vehicle insurance for safe driving. For each year you drive without an incident, you earn a safety point that corresponds to a discount on your vehicle’s plate insurance. As you can earn safety points, you can also lose points for unsafe driving such as speeding, accident, etc. If your safety wasn’t enough motivation to put the phone away while driving, one texting and driving ticket wipes away the points that would have taken you four years to accumulate. That could mean an additional $200 on top of the $280 ticket.

Bundling up

Some insurers will offer discount incentives if you purchase multiple insurances from them. The most common insurance bundles include home insurance and car insurance. When you are shopping around, check how much money you can save by bundling. It’s also very convenient for when renewal time comes around to do it all at once so you don’t have to wonder all year “Wait… is my car insurance due in March? Or is that home insurance?”

Improving your health

Life insurance prepares you for the unexpected and helps protect the people you love if something were to happen to you. When choosing life insurance, consider your family and work situation, life goals and your budget.

If you’re a smoker, your insurance premiums will be higher than a non-smoker. Now you may be thinking, well I just won’t tell my insurance provider that I smoke so I don’t pay as much. Wrong – don’t do this because if you hide it and it’s discovered you’ve been lying, your insurance could be rejected. On a positive note, if you need that extra reason to quit smoking, some insurance companies will consider you a non-smoker if you’ve been smoke-free for a year and will reduce your premiums. Not only will you be able to save on insurance, you’ll also be saving money due to no longer buying your cigarettes. Bonus, Smoker’s Helpline has a Quit to Win Contest where you can enter to win $500 cash if you quit smoking.

 

Whenever you’re purchasing insurance of any kind, be sure to do your research and shop around for the best rate. Always ask questions and inquire about any discounts your provider may offer.

Know of other discounts or incentives to save money on insurance? I’d love to hear them – share with me by using the comment section below.

Get The Quarter Back: Saving Money at a Stadium

It’s an exciting time for professional sports in Saskatchewan right now! The Riders home opener is kicking off on Canada Day, Saskatoon has two brand new sports franchises in the Rush and the Rattlers and the NHL is hosting the Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in the fall. But be careful – not only can it be expensive to buy a ticket to the game, the game day atmosphere may have you whipping out your wallet a little more than you’d expect. Let’s get you set up with some spending hacks from a former sports marketer for how to save some green when cheering for the green and white or attending any other sporting event.


According to a CNBC article, Americans spend $56 billion USD on sporting events each year. For comparison, that’s more than double than what they spend on book purchases. We’re not immune to this fanatic spending north of the border, and in some instances, we go above and beyond. We just witnessed how ridiculously expensive seats can become during a playoff run when the Raptors entered the NBA Championships and seat prices in Toronto STARTED at $800 and topped out at $60,000! It’s just not fair that I could have given up my chocolate milk addiction for an entire year and I STILL wouldn’t have been able to afford a seat in the nosebleeds.

That’s a grandiose example, but you can easily rack up a pretty large bill at a local sporting event if you aren’t careful. Berkeley Data Science produced an in-depth report that breaks down the cost of attending a game (ticket, parking, hot dog and a beer) for every team in each of the four major professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL) and measures them against winning percentages, fan loyalty and in-game experience to give the best deals in professional sport. Here are the most expensive game day experiences around each league:

    • NFL – Dallas Cowboys ($199.20 USD)
    • NBA – New York Knicks ($176.38 USD)
    • NHL – Boston Bruins ($144.95 USD)
    • MLB – Chicago Cubs ($104.07 USD)

How does a CFL game day experience at Mosaic Stadium stack up? An average ticket to a Rider game would cost you $69 for a ticket in the bronze section (including ticketmaster fees), $25 for stadium approved parking and $16 for a beer and a hot dog (depending on the vendor). Granted, Mosaic Stadium is touted as one of the nicest outdoor facilities in Canada and a CFL game puts on one heck of a show, but $110 CAD on a relatively lean budget is a pretty penny!

I spent five years working in marketing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and have seen first hand how deceptively expensive attending a professional sporting event can be. Here are some inside secrets from a former sports marketer and some tips on how to save money at a stadium:

BUYING TICKETS FOR THE GAME:


Choose your game wisely

Not all games are priced equally. If you are wanting to just check out a casual game and don’t really care about the opponent or the importance of the match – don’t go to the big game. There is a trend in ticketing right now called “Dynamic Pricing” where the cost of a ticket is variable based on the demand (airlines use a similar pricing strategy). Essentially, an algorithm increases or decreases the price based on how quickly the game is selling out. To put this in perspective, I went to two Raptors games last year in Toronto that were only two days apart and sat in the exact same seats for both games. One game’s seats were $71 and the other was $131. The ONLY difference was that the first night the Raptors played the Minnesota Timberwolves (a team fighting to even make the playoffs) and the second night hosted the Golden State Warriors (the reigning NBA champions at the time). The Riders don’t use dynamic pricing – but they do charge more for “premium games” like Labour Day or when the rival Calgary Stampeders come to town.

PRO TIP: If all else fails, you can always purchase the cheapest ticket offered and roam around the stadium for the game. There are plenty of drink rails that offer great vantage points before you mosey on over to your new location.

Check out the re-sale market before you buy!

I once went to a garage sale and found a Super Nintendo being sold for $14 (I know, right!?). I snatched that sucker up in a heartbeat and walked away from that garage sale giddily feeling like I robbed the place. How does this relate? I would compare the re-sale market to that garage sale where you can find some tickets being sold at “What a STEAL!” prices. A lot of times, people post their tickets on the re-sale market in hopes of recovering some costs for a game they can’t attend (because Cousin Randy just HAD to get married on Labour Day). Buying tickets from StubHub or Kijiji is very risky due to fraud or double selling tickets. It really does happen – one day over a beer I will tell you a heartbreaking story that involved a Montreal Canadiens game, fake StubHub tickets, and a very heartbroken Mason.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Ticketmaster has their own verified re-sale network where you can sell tickets you originally purchased through Ticketmaster. You can even set your own prices which drives ticket prices down as sellers fight to undercut each other. Speaking from experience, I’ve been there when you scan your tickets at the gate and are turned away due to suspicious activity from third party re-sellers (again, Mason’s Misery in Montreal is a tale for another time) and I highly recommend purchasing through a verified re-seller to avoid that experience.

Tips for families

That same CNBC article estimates that it costs the average family of four approximately $500 to attend an NFL Football game. Yikes! There has to be a more affordable way to pack up the kids in the mini-van and get them to the stadium for their first game day, right? Sadly, there is no magical solution that will help you spend less than the college kid “having a little too much fun” in Pil Country, but there are ways to make it a little more manageable! Most stadiums have family pricing to help break down some barriers to get your family through the gates. The top sport franchises will even take a loss on family priced tickets in order to play the long-term game and build life-long fans. Before you buy, do some research to see if your team is having a “Family Day/Night” where they offer bundled discounts and bring in kid friendly entertainment each game. (In my last season with the Riders, we did a Family Day game where we brought in Paw Patrol mascots and kids lost their minds!) Finally, before you complete your purchase, sometimes it is worth calling the ticket office to see if they have any special family promotions to help knock down a few more dollars. If they can’t save you some money, sometimes they’ll throw in soft drink or popcorn vouchers for the inevitability of your kids wanting a snack immediately after kickoff.

Hit up friends who are season ticket holders

If you have friends who are season ticket holders, it’s worth asking them to let you know if they ever have a free ticket. They would have purchased their tickets at a volume discount and almost always purchase with one of their friends or family members. When one of them can’t make a game (probably for Cousin Randy’s second marriage. He never learns.), they’ll be looking to avoid the inconvenience of finding a suitor for their ticket and will pawn off it off to you. Best case scenario, they’ll give it to you for free or at the very least (providing you aren’t friends with a tycoon) will give it to you at cost – which will be below the price of a single game due to the volume discount AND you’ll avoid Ticketmaster & facility fees.

PRE-GAME:


Public transit & stadium shuttles are your friend

We’ve all been there where you’ve missed kick-off because you had to circle the surrounding area of the stadium for an hour trying to find a parking spot, only having to park 16 blocks away in an abandoned lot where they still charged you $15. Not only does it cost you money, but likely 10 years off your life. What if I told you there was a way to save on parking, gas, food AND you could be dropped off at the doors of the stadium?  If you are a local to the city, any professional sports team will have public transportation shuttles that will transport you back and forth from various access points around the city FOR FREE. If you can bear listening to the drunk guy beside you screaming Sweet Caroline – it’s worth it. Outside of the city? There are options, too! The Riders offer the “Rider Express” which are transportation shuttles from Saskatoon for only $50. That’s cheaper than a tank of gas and gives everyone in your squad the freedom to enjoy a couple of adult beverages without the pressure of someone having to be the designated driver.

Seek out game day food & shuttle packages

Sometimes restaurants/pubs within or just outside of the city will source their own shuttle service and package it with a meal. For them – it gets you in their doors before and after the game. For you – it’s a cheap way to save money on meals so you aren’t spending a ton of money on food at the stadium and you also don’t need to worry about the hassle of traffic and parking. It’s a win for everyone involved! For example, Broncos Pub and Grill in Pilot Butte charges $30 for a shuttle to the game, a burger, fries and a draft beer! If you were to pay for that at the stadium while paying for parking – it would cost more than double!

AT THE GAME: 


Tailgate! … or whatever we do in Canada

Once you get to the game, check out the pre-game festivities outside of the gates. Sponsors pay a lot of money to be able to set up shop in the tailgating areas and a lot of them will have give-aways or products to sample. Whether you are there to party with some friends or you showed up with your kids hoping to have them burn off some energy before the game – there’s something there for everyone and might save you some money on food and drink before prices skyrocket when you walk through the gates.

Beware of the dreaded impulse buys

When you get through the gates – you are going to be incredibly excited and there will be money grabs hitting you from all sides. On your left you’ll see the 50/50 stand, on your right you will encounter the merchandise store with the new game day special you’ll want to snatch off the shelves, and if you are like me, your first stop will be at the mini donuts cart. The atmosphere on game day can be incredibly exciting but if you are not careful, you’ll find yourself whipping out your wallet and blindly spending more than you can afford.

PRO TIP: Make a budget for the day before you leave your house while you are in a calmer, more rational mindset to look at your account and decide what you can realistically allocate to elevate your game day experience. This will make it much easier for your wallet to survive the cash grabs around the stadium that seemingly become irresistible once you drink the home team kool-aid. Make sure you stick to it, too! If you don’t trust yourself to not overspend at the game – take out cash that matches the amount you budgeted before the game. That way, when the cash runs out – you know when to stop spending. Trust me, it will save you from buying that celebratory round of shots after a touchdown that will not only save your money, but will also save yourself from a headache in the morning.

Study the prohibited/permitted items list

Every major sport team will have their Permitted & Prohibited items listed on their website. Review it beforehand and buy supplies in advance to avoid vendor markups and avoid wasted money when grumpy gate attendants confiscate your bottle of Orange Crush. For instance, every stadium allows you to bring in water bottles as long as they are clear and sealed. I highly recommend hitting up a Walmart and grabbing water bottles for you and your group. It may seem like you are only saving $2 per water bottle but if you are attending a number of games this season – this adds up fast!

PRO TIP: If you bring your supplies in a clear bag, you will save A TON of time at the gate and won’t have a security guard sifting through your purse.

Cheap end-of-game munchies

In sport, “crunch time” means the pivotal final moments that can decide the outcome of a game. In the last quarter or period of the match, your definition of “crunch time” could mean cheap snacks. If you aren’t really tied to the outcome of the game or the score is lopsided in one direction – walk around the concourse to see if any vendors are offering deals on food that they made too much of. If you can hold off your in-game snack attack until the end of the game, you can score some really great deals on food that vendors are trying to recoup some costs on before they throw it away.

Sport fans – there’s nothing more powerful than when we unite around our team and a common goal. Let’s band together and share some tips and tricks that you’ve learned about saving money at a stadium. Comment below with your wisdom and check out our other #MONEYTALK blogs to further help your financial well-being!

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.

filing system for income taxes

Why you should file an income tax return

Filing a tax return is important, even if you had no income for the year, as you may be eligible for credits that could result in a refund. Here are several reasons why you should file a tax return. 


It’s that time of year again – tax season. Whether you have income or not, there are many reasons why you should file an income tax return each year.

You owe tax or will receive a refund.

When you file your taxes, there are two outcomes – either you’ll owe tax or you’ll get a refund.

Of Canadians who have filed their 2018 income taxes, approximately 71% have received a refund, with the average refund being just over $1,600.

Owing tax is not as fun as receiving a refund, but it’s important to file a return and pay these taxes by the deadline to ensure you’re not charged interest which will increase what you owe.

Take advantage of non-refundable and refundable tax credits

You may be eligible to receive certain credits from the government but must file an income tax return in order to determine eligibility and your benefit amount.

Non-refundable tax credits:

Non-refundable credits lower your tax payable. They are named “non-refundable” as these credits cannot, by themselves, get you a refund. A few examples include:

  • Tuition
  • Charitable donations
  • First-time homebuyers amount
Refundable tax credits

Refundable tax credits are a specific amount of money deducted from the amount of tax you owe and is the same amount whether you owe $100 or $1000. For refundable tax credits, the government will pay you the refundable tax credit you qualify for whether you owe tax or not, meaning if you had no tax payable, theses refundable amounts would result in a refund on their own. Examples include:

  • Working income tax benefit
  • GST/HST credit

Recuperate any tax you overpaid from your pay cheque

If you’ve switched jobs part way through the year or worked multiple jobs last year, you may have overpaid taxes on your paycheque(s). When you file an income tax return, it allows you to recover any taxes you may have overpaid.

Carry forward or transfer any unused tuition, education or textbook amounts

If you attended a post-secondary level course, you may be able to claim the tuition credit. This credit is non-refundable, meaning if the tuition is greater than the tax you owe, the tax credit can only be used to reduce or eliminate what you owe. Any unused amounts can be carried forward to a future tax year, or you can also transfer to a spouse/common-law partner or parent/grandparent.

Even if you have no tax to pay, it’s important to file an income tax return to claim your tuition, education and textbook amounts so that you can update any unused amounts, and carry them forward to future years.

 

When it comes to doing your income tax return, there are many tools and resources to assist you including information on the Government of Canada’s website.  As well, often organizations within different communities offer free income tax preparation services which you can usually find through a quick Google search. Are there any free income tax preparation services available within your community? Share with us below by telling us which community and who offers the services.

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.