Wednesday, 22 February 2017

What You Need to Know About RRSP's

We've been having some really mild weather in Edmonton recently which makes it feel like Spring is already here but it's still February. For us Edmontonians that means we could very well be faced with another bout of winter...please no. March can be such a sketchy month, it can be beautiful and warm with hardly any snow or it can be freezing cold and blizzarding. It's also the month of my birthday and my mom still complains about trying to plan parties when I was a kid because of how unpredictable it was. I would have dreams of going skating or tobogganing and it would end up pouring rain. Seasons...who needs them!? Uh, nevermind...I totally like seasons. Green Christmases are the worst. 

Anyways, February doesn't just mean surprise weather conditions, it also means that you still have time to make your annual RRSP contribution to lower your 2016 taxes. The RRSP deadline doesn't actually follow the calendar year, and to make it even more confusing, it's not always even on the same date. Usually, it lands on March 1st but the actual rule is that you have the first 60 days of the year to contribute to your RRSP for the previous tax year. This means that every four years a leap year comes along and the deadline gets bumped up to February 29th...just to keep us all on our toes! And all you leap year birthday babies actually get to celebrate ;) 

Automate It
One way to get around the confusion and never forget the deadline is to STOP making annual, lump-sum contributions to your RRSP. No, I don't mean skip your contribution...I mean make it an automatic monthly (or weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly...whatever) payment and never have to think about it again. The only thing to remember here is that pesky little 1st of the month. If you have your automatic contribution set to run on the first, every four years that March 1st payment won't count for the previous year. Maybe save yourself that headache and set it to run on the 15th or even the 5th. 

Contribution Limits
Each year you are allowed to contribute 18% of the previous years earned income, up to a maximum amount set by CRA. For 2016 that maximum was $25,370. You don't lose your RRSP room, so if you have missed contributions from past years you can catch-up at any time. The easiest way to check your current room is by looking at your 'Notice of Assessment', it will be listed there. There are penalties to pay if you happen to go over your RRSP contribution limit. You do have a little leeway; CRA gives you a cushion of $2,000 but if you go over that then you'll have to pay a tax of 1% per month on the excess amount. This will keep accumulating until you either withdraw the over-contribution or earn more room. Trust me, it's a pain to fix so just don't do it. 

If you contribute to a group RRSP through your employer then those contributions also count towards your annual limit. This also applies if you are contributing to a pension plan. You will see a 'pension adjustment' listed on your NOA that lowers the amount you can contribute. 

Why an RRSP?
I've talked about the benefits to an RRSP before (find that here) but I'll give you a quick recap. You might think that the biggest advantage of an RRSP is the refund it can give you when you file your taxes, but that's not entirely true because you still have to pay tax when you withdraw the money down the road. The main benefit is that you can make a deposit to your RRSP when you are in a high tax bracket and then withdraw the funds in retirement when you are hopefully in a lower tax bracket. This is why it doesn't always make sense to contribute to an RRSP, especially if your income is low at this point of your life. You'll get the biggest advantage by contributing the most to your RRSP when you are earning at your highest level and then withdraw those funds when you are earning at your lowest level. Make sense? The money in your RRSP is also sheltered from tax until the point you take it out, so you wont get any tax slips for earned interest or capital gains every year like for non-registered accounts. 

One exception to the contribute during high income and withdraw during low income is if you are planning to take advantage of the Home Buyer's Plan. This is a program that allows first-time home buyers to withdraw up to $25,000 tax-free from their RRSP to help them buy a house. I like the idea of saving your down payment (at least the $25,000 of it) in your RRSP because then you can use the tax refund to get you closer to your savings goal. You do eventually have to pay the money back into your RRSP over the next 15 years (and there's no additional refund on the repayment amounts), but I know from my own experience saving up to buy a house that every single penny counts. If you're buying your first home with someone else you can use the HBP for each person. 

How much will you get back?
The refund you will get on your RRSP contribution is based on your income and marginal tax bracket. How it works is that your income for the tax year will be reduced by the amount you contribute, therefore lowering the amount of earned money you have to pay tax on. Take a look at the table below to figure out which tax bracket you fit into (these are Alberta rates but you can find other provinces here and you're looking for the federal/provincial combined rates).

Let's say your income is $94,000 and you want to make an RRSP contribution of $5,000. Because you are in the 36% tax bracket you would get a refund on the contribution of $1,800 (or lower the amount of tax you owe by that much). If you want to do a quick estimate on what you may owe (or get back) on your taxes and see the impact an RRSP contribution would have, you can check out the
calculator from TurboTax. 
Spousal RRSP's 
You may have heard of income splitting and making use of a Spousal RRSP for that purpose. For a Spousal RRSP plan to make sense for you, you first need to have a spouse (obviously) and then one of you needs to have a higher income than the other. Sound like you? If so then keep on reading...How it works is a Spousal RRSP will be opened in the lower income earners name and the higher earner will make the contributions to the account. The higher earner will get to use the contribution on their taxes (hello refund) but then when the money is withdrawn in retirement it will be in the name of the account holder (the lower income earner). This helps with income splitting by evening out the amount of money that ends up in each person's name. If all contributions were deposited into the higher income earners RRSP, they could end up with a huge account and have to pay more tax because of the larger withdrawals. Taking advantage of Spousal RRSP's and pension splitting can even out a couple's retirement income and lower the overall tax bill they will have. 

The contribution room for a Spousal RRSP comes from the spouse who is making the contributions (the higher income earner) and it's the same limit that counts for their personal RRSP. If their notice of assessment shows $16,000 it would apply to contributions into a regular old RRSP or a Spousal; they could do the full $16,000 in either or split it up between the two. 

One important rule to remember is about three-year attribution. You have to leave the money in the account for at least three years from the contribution date otherwise the withdrawals will be charged back into the contributor's name...defeating all purpose of the Spousal RRSP. If you are getting close to retirement (and needing the funds) you might want to halt Spousal contributions and stick with your regular RRSP. 

As always, let me know if you have any questions in the comments. Happy RRSP season :)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Reading Books or Listening to Audio Books?

I'm a reader, I love curling up with a great book and have ever since I was a child. It's one of my favourite ways to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon and my vision of reading has always been cracking open a new novel and diving in. Because of this, I was a late convert to the e-book craze and actual books are still my preference. I did get a Kobo as a gift a couple of years ago and like it, but mostly for more hauling heavy books along in my suitcase is a lifesaver! At home, though, I'll always choose a real book to hold and flip the pages. This could also be due to the fact that I cannot for the life of me get ebooks from the library to load onto my Kobo. I don't consider myself totally inept at computers but when it comes to that process...ugh, if I have to try that again I might throw my computer out a window. And I'm definitely not quitting on the library anytime soon. My free library membership means I haven't spent a dime on books in years. Basically, if you're not a libary member then I'm not sure we can be friends anymore ;)

Are Audio Books Cheating?
This brings me to audio books and my internal debate about whether or not to count them as actual reading. I always set an annual reading challenge for myself on Goodreads so I need to be able to keep track. I had never actually listened to an audio book before this year, and that's not because I just don't like listening to things. I constantly have headphones in listening to music or one of a bunch of podcasts I keep up on but audio books were another story. To me, they feel like cheating. I think that one of biggest benefits of reading books is seeing the words on the page and having to interpret them with your brain. Doing so puts those words in your head and you'll remember what they mean, how to spell them, and what proper grammar looks like. You can be reading complete garbage but just the simple act of reading those garbage words stimulates your brain and makes you smarter. Audio books take this away from you.

However, after some rather heated debates on the subject, I've been convinced to give them a chance and I have to admit that I don't hate it. I did make a deal with myself, though, and the only way I'm allowed to count audio books is if they teach me something. This means that I'll be listening to plenty of personal finance and business books but no fiction novels I would read for fun. So far this year I've listened to '#Girlboss' by Sophia Amoruso (just ok) and 'Flash Boys' by Michael Lewis (really enjoyed it) and am starting to get won over. The one issue I have now is that I'm falling behind on my podcasts because audio books are 10+ hours long! That's a lot of valuable listening time I'm now devoting to 'reading'. The one big issue I am having with audio books is the distraction factor. For real books, it's easy to just not flip the page if your mind has wandered but what are the chances you are really going to pull out your phone and hit your mind seconds (minutes, whatever)? For me, not good at all...I'll just catch back up at some point. And this happens to me ALL the time! I'll be at the dog park and get distracted by a super cute puppy or check a Twitter notification on my phone and go down some sort of rabbit hole. Focusing on one thing is obviously not my forte :)

What does the science say? 
Daniel Willingham is a psychology professor who has researched and written books about reading and he tackles the very question of whether or not listening to audio books is cheating in a blog post here. He argues that reading and listening to books are 'mostly' the same thing. There are two processes involved in reading; decoding (figuring out the words) and language processing (figuring out the story). The comprehension part of books doesn't matter how you get the information as reading and listening comprehension are highly correlated (if you're good at comprehending the written word you'll be almost as equally good at comprehending the spoken word) but decoding is unique to reading. Most adults who have grown up reading have already developed a high level of decoding capability so you're not likely to make big gains in this department anymore. That's where the 'mostly' the same comes into play...avid readers will absorb 'mostly' the same benefits with either method but if you're a developing reader then building up your 'decoding' skills is important.

I feel like this kind of proves both sides of my internal debate. On the one hand, you lose out on the decoding aspect of reading but on the other, you don't really need that as much anyways. I guess I'll settle with my previous decision to read whatever I want and only listen to 'smart' books.

What do you guys think? Are you pro audio book or loyal only to the written word?

And just because we're talking about books I thought I would share a few of my favourite reads with you, and please feel free to share your favourites in the comments...I'm always on the hunt for a new great read!

'The Art of Racing in the Rain' by Garth Stein

'I Let You Go' by Claire Mackintosh

'Pride & Prejudice' by Jane Austen

'The Language of Flowers' by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

'The Martian' by Andy Weir

'The Brother's K' by David James Duncan

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Meal Planning for the Budgeting Win

Everyone knows that eating out is expensive and a few extra restaurant meals can really blow your monthly budget. This is something we struggle with in this house ALL the time. I like going out to eat, trying new restaurants and having someone else cook for me...kind of the best right? But do I like it more than being able to pay all my bills and hit all my savings goals at the end of the month? Nope...well, almost always nope. Sometimes a new fried chicken place opens just down the street and you overindulge a little, whoops. Not only is eating out hard on your wallet it's also not so great for your waistline. I'm more likely to overeat when I'm in a restaurant than if I'm eating at home and make healthier choices when meals are planned in advance than when I'm staring at a menu. 

Everything in Moderation
I'm not saying you can't ever eat out but you need to have a plan in place to make sure you're not doing it too often. For us, that means we allow ourselves to have one dinner and one lunch out per week. Sometimes that's a fancy dinner if there's a special occasion but it's more typically a chance to hit up one of our neighbourhood favourites. Dinner out doesn't need to be expensive, but it's always going to cost you more than if you cooked for yourself at home. I actually find lunches out much harder to stick to. The bf is great at this and VERY rarely goes out for lunch, and even when he does it's usually just Subway or something equally as inexpensive. I try really, really hard to be good most of the time but I also have co-workers who are very convincing about going out to grab lunch and sometimes it's just so hard to say no! We've made a once a week deal though and have been pretty good at sticking to it. 

Making a Plan
The one thing that dissuades me from eating out is having a fridge full of food to cook. I HATE throwing out food, it makes me crazy! So if all the ingredients for a recipe are ready to go you can bet that meal will get made. If I have to run out to the grocery store and buy anything, though, all bets are off and we'll be way more likely to grab some take-out or head to a restaurant. This is where meal planning is a lifesaver. I don't cook; I hate cooking...a lot. The bf does like cooking though and is way better at it than me so that's his job. My job is doing the organizing part; picking what meals we are eating for the week and putting together the grocery list. Then we have a super romantic Sunday afternoon date at the grocery store to pick up everything we need for the week. Grocery shopping sucks but going together makes it a little bit better and picking up everything in one shot saves those mid-week trips that make take-out sound so tempting. 

One thing that has made grocery shopping easier has been to use a home delivery service every so often. We've been using Spud for almost a year and have been really happy with it. It is slightly more expensive than the grocery store but the quality is great and having fresh produce delivered right to your door is so convenient. Most of our grocery shopping is done at Superstore, which isn't exactly known for high-quality fruits and veggies and is almost always out of something we need, so Spud has filled a gap. If you'd like to try it out you can get $20 off your first order by using my referral code CREDM-ERALON (I'll get a credit too). Their customer service has always been great and they back all their products; if you're disappointed in something just let them know and they'll refund you for it ASAP. 

The Eats
Pinterest is an endless resource for recipes and that is where I find probably 99.99% of the meals that we eat. I might as well just get rid of our stack of cookbooks because I never even look through them. Both of us work full time so quick dinners are essential for weeknights and slow cooker recipes are even better. There's not much better than to walk in the house after work to the delicious smell of an already cooked dinner. I also like to choose recipes that have leftovers for lunch the next day. As I said above, I hate food waste, so making sure there is enough for another meal is a simple way to stop myself from going out for lunch. 

To give you a head start on meal planning I'm going to include the recipes we've got on the calendar for the next two weeks. There are 12 meals in total, 6 dinners to make at home plus a freebie day each week. If you want even more suggestions you can check out my 'Dinner Ideas' board on Pinterest. 
  1. Red Curry Lentils - we haven't made these yet but my mom made them for Christmas eve dinner (curry night!) and they were a hit! I love lentils and am making some progress in convincing my meat-loving boyfriend that they are a real meal. 
  2. Easy Skillet Baked Ziti With Sausage and Ricotta Recipe - this is a brand new recipe for us but the Serious Eats food blog is a highly trusted source in our house. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (the recipe creator) is 'the guy' when it comes to cooking. 
  3. Baked Buffalo Chicken Taquitos - cream cheese and hot sauce...what's not to love? Cooking the chicken breasts in the slow cooker means these are really quick to put together for dinner. We just serve them up with a side salad and there are always extras for lunch. 
  4. Kalua Pork Tacos - tacos have become a weekly staple because and this recipe is my favourite. The slow-cooker pork is delicious and I love the addition of mango to the tacos. 
  5. Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry - even though this curry is meatless it's still super satisfying and filling. It's already packed with spinach but we usually throw a couple of handfuls of peas in too. Don't skip the peanuts, they give a nice added crunch. 
  6. 7-Ingredient Easy Zuppa Toscana (Creamy Gnocchi Soup with Kale and Sausage) - this is my all time favourite soup! I'm really fussy about meat and find that the Italian sausage from the grocery store can be a little chewy so we've been using these sausages from Spud and they are so good in this soup. 
  7. One-Pan Chicken Burrito Bowls - Another quick and easy meal for during the week. I actually omit the chicken from my portion so this is an easy meal to make vegetarian. 
  8. Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp Noodle Bowls - I'm just now noticing that there is a curry trend going on in this meal plan, so my apologies if that's not your thing! These shrimp bowls are so rich and packed with flavour. Do as the recipe says and keep the noodles separate until serving, this goes for packing leftovers too, otherwise, they'll get mushy. 
  9. Huevos Rancheros - You're right, this is a breakfast recipe but breakfast for dinner is a thing. Eggs are cheap, full of protein and delicious so why wouldn't you want to include them at dinner time. 
  10. Korean Beef and Rice - I can't even count how many times we've made this recipe. It's about as quick and easy as you can get. Usually, we'll toss in some broccoli with the saucy meat to hit the veggie quota. 
  11. Asian Pork Tenderloin with Ginger Glaze - Another slow cooker recipe that will make dinner a breeze. The glaze for this pork is amazing and you can serve the pork over salad and it even doubles as a dressing. 
  12. Sticky Thai Peanut Orange Chicken - Speaking of delicious sauces...this sweet, citrusy, peanutty concoction is where it's at.
There you have it, two weeks of dinners that will hopefully get you off on the right meal planning foot. Are you guys avid meal planners or are you more prone to winging it? I'm also always on the lookout for new recipes, so if you have any go-to's let me know in the comments! 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Investing: Fake it 'til you Make it

Investing can be terrifying...seriously! I've been working in finance for a while and the actual picking and choosing of investments has never been (and likely will never be) my thing. Need to know the ins and outs of RRSP's, TFSA's, pensions, whatever....I'm your girl but want to chat analyst reports and company fundamentals and you can keep right on walking past my office. Here comes the but though....investing is important and if you really want to hit your long-term saving goals then you better go and make it your best friend (or we'll settle for acquaintance). Saving up your hard earned dollars is amazing but leaving it sitting in a bank account (even a high interest one) is not going to do too much for getting you to your goals. You need to get those funds in the market and working for you. The longer your time frame the more you can take advantage of investing and compound interest will be working in your favour.

Whether you decide to go it on your own or enlist the help of a financial advisor, it's important that you at least know the basics of investing. It's crazy to me that we go through 12 years of school and never have to take one class on managing your money, it really should be a requirement for all high school students. Investing, building credit, student loans, staying out of debt...these are essential skills for being an adult. You know what isn't? Advanced algebra, studying poetry, and knowing the date Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot have been zero use to me since I wrote the respective high school exams. Sidebar over, back to the point. Investing - like it, love it, or hate need to know how to do it.

Where do you start? 
Probably the hardest part about investing is actually getting started. You can't just pick some random company, invest all your savings in their stock and hope for the best. Right? Nope...well not exactly. I am not telling you to actually put your money into anything before you've done your research but there's no harm in practicing. One of the best ways to get a feel for you risk tolerance, learn about the volatility of the markets and what characteristics to look for in a stock is to build yourself a fake portfolio and watch what happens. This doesn't even have to cost you anything. There are free services available where you can build a mock portfolio and track the results. I like Google Finance but Yahoo Finance will also fit your needs, and if you want access to additional research and tracking software you can look into paying for Globe Investor Unlimited or Morningstar

To get started you'll need to set up a Google account (but really, who doesn't have Gmail at this point) and then go to Google Finance. Click on 'Portfolio' on the right-hand side of the page and you'll be able to start adding holdings to your portfolio. Stocks are an easy place to start as you can simply start by adding companies you know. Maybe you're a coffee addict? Add Starbucks. Have a cell phone plan? Buy Rogers, Bell or Telus. Like to travel? Go for Westjet. You get the point. With Google Finance you also aren't limited to just adding stocks; they also have mutual funds and ETF's in their database so you can watch in real time how they compare. Here's a look at a quick fake portfolio I did up using some popular Canadian stocks: 

To get this data I added each company to my portfolio and used the same purchase date (February 1, 2016) and bought 100 shares of each. I looked up the historical price (search for the company using the main search bar, then click on 'company' and 'historical prices' on the right-hand menu) for that specific date so that I could see a full year of performance. You can absolutely skip this step and use the current date and price to track going forward; adding the historical data just gives you instant results. There's also a graph you can look at to track performance, it's not anything special but does give you an idea of how your fake portfolio has done. Check off the S&P/TSX option so you can compare it to how the market has done over the same time period. As you can see below, my portfolio has tracked the S&P/TSX Composited Index pretty closely but is currently lagging behind. That makes sense because almost all of the companies I chose are on the index. 

Train Your Emotions
You've probably heard people talk about how investing is emotional and to really be successful you need to keep your emotions in check and not let them rule your decisions. It's not easy to watch a stock you own drop in price day after day but, as long as the company is still stable, that's the last time you want to sell. A loss isn't actually a loss (and a gain isn't actually a gain) until you push the button and sell. Same thing goes for if you've had your eye on a stock that just had a big jump in price and is trading at record high levels...probably not a great time to buy-in. By tracking a mock portfolio and watching your investments go up and down day after day you will be training your brain to not over-react when you've got real dollars at stake. 

You'll also get some insight into how much risk you'll be willing to take. For your first mock portfolio, I suggest adding a wide range of investments. I wrote about some of the most common types of investments here if you are just getting into investing or need a quick refresher. Pick a few big Canadian companies from different sectors (think energy, banks, communications, retail, etc), a couple of different mutual funds with different risk levels (aggressive growth, income, balanced, etc.), some ETF's (iShares, Vanguard, and BMO all have offerings), and top it off with random stock picks you think might hit the jackpot. Maybe a friend of a friend was talking about this penny stock (medical marijuana is all the rage in Canada right now) that is going to make them a millionaire, add it in and see what happens. You've got nothing to lose at this stage (except maybe your ego) so do it all. What you want to focus on is how you feel when one of your holdings loses a bunch of are NEVER going to be right on all your picks so you need to know what it feels like to be in the red. If it makes you feel sick and like you are going to lose sleep then that sector is not for you. Figuring out what sort of volatility you can handle in your accounts is half the battle and will really narrow down your investment choices. 

Start NOW! 
The best part about building a mock portfolio is that there is no reason you can't go and do it right this second. Google Finance is completely free and you won't need to use any of your own money until you are ready, so even if you're still struggling to pay down your debt and have no spare cash you can still participate. This way you'll be even better prepared when you actually do have the money to invest and it might even help to motivate you to save faster. 

What do you guys think? Do you find mock portfolios helpful when you're just getting started with investing? 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Do you really have to LOVE your job?

How many times have you heard the old cliche 'love what you do'? I'm guessing too many times. I actually hate that saying! It feels like one of those unattainable ideals that we're supposed to live up to; like having a supermodel body, having a perfect relationship or never getting a zit. What if you just like your job? You don't hate it but if you won the lottery tomorrow you'd be handing in your notice lightning fast and packing up to travel the world or do whatever it is you ACTUALLY really love. If you all of a sudden had endless amounts of cash and wouldn't change a thing about your life (you're lying!) then yes, maybe you truly do love what you do but that's not the norm...not even close. I bet there are way more people out there that hate their jobs with a passion than love them with a passion. And you know what, that's ok? Well, maybe not hating your job that much but there's nothing wrong with just being so-so about it.

For a lot of people (me included) working is a means to an end. I go to work, put in the hours, cash my pay cheque and use that money to fund the things that are important to me. I'm lucky to have a great job and work with great people so I do enjoy my hours at work (most of the time) but I enjoy my hours out of the office even more. And really, what's so bad about having to put in the time to earn money and build a life for yourself? Everything can't be all champagne and chocolate all the time! Having the ability to work for yourself is a relatively new concept. Our parents didn't have the technology to become famous on Instagram or Twitter or even to make money through blogging. Sure, there were people who ran their own businesses but it's been a recent phenomenon for the entrepreneur lifestyle to be so highly regarded. I'm sure many of my fellow 'Millenials' (whether they'll admit it or not) would be all to happy to bump up their number of followers and run a successful blog. I'm not judging...I totally get it! It's worth thinking about how your parents made their money and if that was really so awful. 

"Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." 

Ever heard that one before? Let's be honest, no one actually believes that right... Even those people who have a total dream job have bad days, and I bet those bad days feel a lot like work. Think of a person who you think has the greatest job in the world. Maybe it's a big name Hollywood actor or a blogger who works for themselves and brings in six figures a month. I guarantee you even those people have to deal with crappy co-workers, online trolls or just plain old lack of motivation. Having days where you hate your job doesn't mean you're in the wrong line of work, it means you're human...just like everybody else.

There is so much hype out there about becoming your own boss and having an entrepreneurial spirit but that also comes with a lot of added pressure. Working for yourself means that you no longer have a steady salary to fall back on and you are 100% responsible for every dollar that comes in and goes out. In some ways that's great and might be exactly what you want but there is a downside. People who work for themselves are rarely off the clock and are more likely to be answering emails at 10 pm, constantly interacting on social media or waking up in the middle of the night in a panic because they forgot to send something out.You should also consider the added group benefits that are often included when you work for a large company. Health benefits, profit sharing, pension plans, and insurance are all things you'll have to pay for out of your own pocket if you're your own boss, and those things aren't cheap. Sometimes having a day job where you can leave work at the office and your weekends are all freedom doesn't sound so bad right? 

I've got a foot in both worlds right now. I have a (mostly) full-time day job that I enjoy but never imagined myself doing and then I'm a part-time blogger. When people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was never once a 'financial advisor'. It's something I sort of fell into and have stuck with for almost 8 years with no signs of quitting anytime soon (unless I win the lottery!) I finished university with a Bachelor of Arts degree and no real plan for what I was going to do with my life. Topping my list at that moment was to work for a bit, save money and then maybe go back for another round of university (I like school, what can I say). My previous work experience had been mainly admin jobs so that's what I started looking for. The hunt brought me to an interview with a financial advisor to be an administrative assistant and, well, the rest is history. I started out doing pretty basic work but did a good job and was eventually given more and more responsibility. After a few years, I had to make a decision whether to stick with it and hopefully continue to grow or pack up my things and go back to school. Obviously, I went with option #1 and that brought me to writing my Canadian Securities exams and becoming an advisor.  The motto of my employment history? Don't knock it til you try it...that bridge job might just turn into your career. 

To me working is a little like exercising, not exactly my favourite thing to do but a necessary part of being a grown-up. There isn't much instant gratification but you'll thank yourself in the long run. 

How do you guys feel about your current job; love it, like it, hate it? Are you willing to settle when it comes to your career or are you on the path to your dream job? 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Annual Credit Check Time

How many of you check your credit score every year? I'm sure there are a lot of you out there who are just like me and really, truly mean to check it every annually but sometimes it just gets pushed off again and again. Well, NOT THIS YEAR! Here is your gentle reminder to go, right now, and make sure there are no surprises lurking in the deep, dark world of credit reporting. 

But, why? 

I know, it sounds like a hassle but it really is for your own good. Sometimes mistakes happen and there might be an entry listed on your credit report that can cause you serious grief if you are looking at buying a home, getting a line or credit or anything else that requires you to pass a credit check. If you can find the mistake now you can take steps to correct the error so that future lenders won't see it and you'll have no issues. What kind of mistakes are there? Your credit report is basically a transaction history of every time you've used credit, so anytime you've taken out a loan, signed up for a new credit card, paid a bill, etc. If you don't pay a bill on time the company you own money to can report this to Equifax and that entry will go on your credit report and lower your credit score. Usually, companies won't go and do this right away, as long as you call them and get the bill paid ASAP you should be fine. Every once in awhile though a company will forget to report an invoice as paid and send that information over to Equifax. This is a big pain and it's a hassle to get it corrected but it's better to know about it now than when you're sitting in your bank's office trying to get approved for a mortgage. 

Knowing where your credit score stands will also give you a good idea of how your financial situation is and if you need to work on improving your credit. A credit score of over 700 will really help out when applying for any sort of credit and will make sure you aren't wasting money on higher than average interest rates. It also puts you in a better position to negotiate and more lenders who would be willing to lend you money. 

Ok, how do I check? 

There are two national credit bureau's in Canada: Equifax (the most common) and TransUnion. Both can provide you with your credit report and credit score. When you visit either of these websites you'll notice that they are pushing a monthly payment plan to get your credit score/report and get monthly monitoring with it. If you want to do that sure, but I don't really think it's necessary as long as you take matters into your own hands and check it every so often. 

Now before you pay any money you should know that you have some FREE options available. The government has made it the rule that TransUnion and Equifax have to give you free access to your full credit report once a year. They try to make this a little tricky since obviously paid products are better for business but here's what to do. For TransUnion, you are actually looking for what they call the 'Consumer Disclosure' (who would have thought!) Go to that link and you can access a free online version of the report. Equifax still calls it a credit report but the only way you can get it is to request a snail mail copy by either calling them at 1-800-465-7166 or mailing/faxing them this form (old school right?!) That used to be the only way Canadians could get a free credit report, but the times are changing. 

Neither TransUnion or Equifax will give you your actual credit score for free but there are now two alternative resources you can visit. Borrowell and Mogo are both online loan companies that have made deals with Equifax to offer Canadians free credit scores. They are basically doing this to get their names out there with the hope that you will use them for your borrowing needs. I actually just recently tested out the Borrowell system to get my credit score and it was super simple and quick. 

Perfect credit score? I wish!

You will have to fill out some basic personal information and answer a few verification questions that come from Equifax (mine asked about previous credit history and the last digits of my SIN) and then just like that my credit score popped up on the screen. I haven't tried Mogo yet but from what I can tell it looks to be a very similar process. You're not under any sort of obligation to use their products after getting your free credit score but you may have to unsubscribe from their emails...hardly the end of the world. 

What if it's bad? 

Ok, so you've got your score and it's not exactly where you'd like it to be. Not the end of the world but it means you've got some work today. The first thing you'll want to do is review your credit report (or consumer disclosure...damn TransUnion) and make sure there is nothing on there that shouldn't be. If there is an error you will want to file a dispute by contacting either TransUnion (more info here) or Equifax (more info here) (whoever you pulled the report with). I've been lucky enough to never have to do this myself but have heard it can be a huge pain in the ass...brace yourself. 

If everything on the report looks to be correct then you'll need to start taking steps to raise that number. This is NOT an overnight process, and anyone you find promising you a quick fix for your credit is straight up lying. You need to build your credit with good behaviour over time. The most important thing to do is always, always, always pay your bills on time. Having overdue bills reported will have a big negative impact on your credit and the only way to counteract that is to create some good payment history. Next, up would be reducing your debt. Being maxed out on your credit cards, a line of credit, etc. is not good for your credit score. It will look at your credit usage (how much credit you have vs how much credit you're using) and paying off debt will lower your credit usage and increase your credit score. So what about increasing your limits to lower your credit usage? Real talk...this is a strategy you might see recommend in some places but not by me. If you are already having a hard enough time paying down your existing debt then adding more credit is likely to just get you in even more trouble. This is not a long term fix! If you desperately need to raise your credit score to get approved for a mortgage, car loan, whatever you really should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you actually need the thing you're buying. Pay your bills and pay down your debts and you'll start to see your score grow. 

What if you have no credit? 

Maybe you're just getting started on your personal finance journey and need to build up your credit to help your future self. To do this you first need to get some accounts in your name and adding records to your history. Open a chequing and savings account, set up your cell phone, power, cable bill in your name and always make sure you pay your bills on time and in full. Next, you can look at starting out with a secured credit card. This is like a real credit card but you put the money down so there's no risk for the bank. In this day and age (especially with house prices being so high), it's almost essential to be able to access credit from a lender. Starting to build your credit early and being consistent in paying bills off in full will set you on the right path. It's much harder to fix bad credit than it is to build good credit from the start. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

2017 Financial Resolutions that are Worth Making

You know how many times I had to re-type 2017 so it didn't say 2016...3 times! How embarrassing!!! Technically I'm still writing this in 2016 though so I'll use that as my excuse, plus it's New Year's Eve and I'm mildly doped up on cold medication. I know, super thrilling plans for this girl! I've never been a huge fan of New Year's Eve anyways so it wasn't a huge loss; there's always so much hype but it just ends up being too busy and too expensive and just a let down at the end of the night. Staying in for the win, minus the sickness for next year though please. 

2016 has been a year of ups and down for many people, with too many notable deaths and tragic incidents around the world but for me personally it's been a pretty positive year. As you guys know I started a new job in late 2015 so I was able to get settled in with that all year and I really couldn't be happier with my decision to make a change. We also went on a fantastic trip to Barcelona which bumped itself up to one of my favourite cities I've ever visited and I've been consistently (more or less) been blogging for a little over a year at this point. Looking back on the year that's past always make me think of what's to come, and that means it's time to set some goals for 2017. I'm keeping my list short, sweet and not too specific this year to give myself some flexibility as the year plays out and make sure I'm not failing right off the bat. I like to think of New Year's resolutions as more of a broad outline for your year and save the more detailed goals for your monthly planner. 

For this year I would like to: 

1. Get healthier (along with 90% of you I'm sure) - The last few months I've been seriously slacking in my gym attendance and there has been way too much eating out done in this household, so here's to clean(er) eating and regular gym dates to shed a few pounds and feel happier with myself. 

2. Road trip! - We've been talking for years about packing up the car and going on a road trip and I'd love to see this summer be the one for that. At this point we don't have any travel plans set in stone so it would be nice to save up some vacation days and hit the road. We're lucky in Edmonton to be near the Rockies so our route would certainly include a few days in the mountains and then maybe on to Vancouver Island. It wouldn't be the most frugal of vacations (I'm not a camper) but it would be fun to explore by car, something I haven't done since I was a kid. 

3. Blog productivity - I really enjoy having a little place on the internet to write and share my thoughts but I'd like to push this a bit more in 2017 and make the blog more productive. I'm keeping my expectations low but I'd like to earn at least a few bucks and get a little more traffic. This also includes becoming a more avid reader (and commenter) of blogs that I love. One of my main goals is to get ahead on writing posts. At this point I write when I can and try to post something at least once a week. Going forward I would like to build up a small library of future posts so I'm not forced to write when I really don't feel it, and have a more consistent schedule of posts. Work in progress guys ;) 

So that's where I'm sitting with my New Year's resolutions but I'd also like to share a few financial resolutions that you might want to add to your list if you're looking to get your finances in order. 

1. Debt Repayment Schedule 
If you've got any sort of debt (minus your mortgage, small fish first) let's make 2017 the year you get that in order. The first thing you need to do is choose a strategy for paying off your debt and start putting it into action. Check out this post and figure out if you'd prefer to go the debt avalanche or debt snowball route. 

2. Automate your Savings
This is perhaps the #1 thing you can do to make the most noticeable difference to your savings rate and really start to build your net worth. What I mean by this is set up all your payments to run automatically, as soon as your pay cheque comes in each week, month, whenever. By making the process automated you wont have to remember where, when and how much to move into each specific savings account and you wont miss the extra money because you never really had a chance to spend it in the first place. You can do this with your RRSP contributions, TFSA deposits, emergency fund top-ups, or just your slush fund. 

3. Make a Budget
Having a workable budget is one of the most important tools you can have in your personal finance arsenal and what better time to set your budget than the start of a new year. If you're already a budgeting pro, this is a good time to take a detailed look at your current outline and see where you can make any tweaks to make it function even better. Maybe you got a raise last year and need to allocate those new funds or maybe it's your new years goal to spend less money eating out and redirect those funds to savings. If you're new to this then start simple, look at all the money coming in and the money going out. Then breakdown the money going out into needs vs wants and see where there are excesses (or where you can create excesses) and set those amounts into savings (see #2). Give yourself a few months to live with and make adjustments to your budget so that you can stick to it all year. Saving is great (and a necessary evil) but I don't want you to cut back too much and not be able to enjoy life now...everything in moderation. 

4. Take Advantage of Workplace Benefits 
Make 100% sure that you are making use of any group RRSP's, pension plans, health benefits, etc. that are provided to you by your employer. Nothing is more frustrating than finding out someone has been passing up free money just for not reading their benefits guide or asking their boss about available programs. Even if you are taking advantage it can be worth asking if anything has changed, or maybe you can get bumped up to a higher matching limit if you've been working for the same company for awhile. I would love to see it become to norm for companies to make you 'opt-out' of benefits instead of having to 'opt-in'. You should also find out if there are any corporate discount programs available to you. Lots of companies work out discounts for their employees for things like cell phone plans, gym memberships, hotels, etc. 

5. Start Investing
Maybe you've been saving money, have your debts paid and a healthy emergency fund but you haven't stepped into the world of investing yet. Time for a change and really get your money to work for you. It's easier than ever to get access to the market and the earlier you start the better because compound interest will really have your back in the long term. You don't even have to know much about investing to get started, even if you put your money into a moderate risk mutual fund you'll get some of the market upside without having to do much research or track performance. Alternatively you could take on more risk and put a portion of your money straight into the stock market and invest in companies you think have a positive outlook. Whether you choose to find an advisor or go the robo-advisor route there's no time like 2017 to get started;) 

Where do you guys sit on resolutions, are they must-haves or do you skip the task? And what about your finances, anything you are working towards in 2017? Share your progress in the comments below, and best wishes for the upcoming year!

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Best of 2016: Movies Edition

Happy New Years Eve everyone! Big plans on the agenda for tonight? Not to much is happening over here, I'm STILL battling an endless sickness (along with what seems like the rest of Edmonton!) so we will be taking it easy at home tonight. The Oilers game, a movie, a little champagne and a lot of puppy cuddles...that's on my agenda for today. 

Since it's the perfect time to curl up and watch a good flick I'm going to give you my favourite movies from the past year. I haven't made it out to see many of the new 'Oscar' buzz movies yet (I really want to see La La Land) but there's still been some good picks from throughout the year. 

A superhero movie with a little extra grit? Works for me. I thought Deadpool was hilarious and Ryan Reynolds was perfect as the lyrca clad, potty mouthed anti-hero. I've never even been much of a Ryan Reynolds fan but with this performance and his ridiculous Tweets I'm slowly becoming a convert. If you haven't watched Deadpool yet you absolutely should, it's on Netflix now. 

Hell of High Water
Not at all a superhero movie. Sometimes slow burn movies are just straight up boring and other times everything comes together just so and you find yourself on the edge of your seat simply from good storytelling. Hell or High Water fits securely in that second category. It's a heist movie, but with a lot more background and a lot less action. Stellar performances by Chris Pine (another actor I don't really like), Ben Foster and Jeff Brigdes will pull you in and you'll find yourself rooting for the bad guy (or is he?) 

I think this is the first alien movie I've watched that doesn't treat the aliens as evil creatures whose sole purpose is to destroy humans...and that's a good thing. Arrival focuses on how we could possibly communicate with aliens if they ever do come to Earth. Amy Adams is wonderful as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is tasked with figuring out how to talk to the aliens and give us an interesting look into how we form language and how different things could be. The film feels timely with the greater arc of international relations and how cooperation between countries is key. 

Captain America: Civil War
Another superhero movie! If you don't know this about me yet then you obviously haven't read my views on movies, but I really like the fun (aka. mostly Marvel) superhero movies. All those serious DC comics ones I can easily pass on but I love me some Avengers. I'm pretty sure Civil War is the only movie I have ever gone to see twice in theaters, and the second time was completely by choice...I actually went by myself when I was stuck in Calgary for an afternoon. The only weird thing about it is that it's a Captain America movie, but it has basically all of the Avengers in it. Whatever, it's lots of fun and you can now find it on Netflix. #teamcap

I was a little young for the first Ghostbusters so it was never really a classic movie for me but that didn't stop me from liking the new version any less (or maybe that helped?) I thought the all female cast worked and am not sure how you can fault any of those four ladies...they were all great! There was a lot of hype surrounding the release and maybe it didn't quite meet expectations but it was a perfect summer movie and gave little girls four strong role models to look up to. 

The Nice Guys
Ryan Gosling just makes good movies and I love his dry humour in The Nice Guys. I like a good drama or action movie but when a comedy is done right that is really my favourite kind of movie. The Nice Guys is packed with funny jokes but is also smart, well acted and has a good storyline. 

OJ: Made in America
I guess technically this is a miniseries but it was made to be an extra-long documentary so I'm putting it in the movies category (and I already have the other OJ show in my TV picks). This version of the OJ story is the documentary version so you're not going to find performances by big name actors like in the TV series but that doesn't mean it's any less enthralling and you'll come out with a more complete knowledge of the crime and the trial. I found the whole thing really interesting and we binged through the whole eight hours in just a couple of days. 

Nocturnal Animals 
I debated adding this one to my list because I think I'm a little biased when it comes to Jake Gyllenhall (#celebritycrush). The bf also thought it was good though so that reassures me a bit. Nocturnal Animals is not a movie for everyone, it's dark and moody and weird but for those who can get behind that are in for a treat. I think it's a bit like Drive, another one of my favourites, in that it has this slow paced intensity that is really unnerving. It's also a really gorgeous film to watch, thanks to the direction of Tom Ford. 

Two Thumbs Down
Not everything was rosy in movies this year, there were some duds. There's always so many movies to see that I'm usually pretty fussy about what I'll actually pay to see in theatres but once in awhile I don't believe all the bad reviews. That's what happened with Independence Day Resurgence...the reviews were horrible but I thought 'how bad can it really be?' Really bad is the correct answer; so bad that it's one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I have no idea how they made such a bad movie, total disappointment! 

The next one that was a disappointment (but nowhere near as bad as Independence Day) was the new Jason Bourne movie. This one wasn't even that bad but everything in it just felt like a re-run of the past films. I liked that Matt Damon was back but there wasn't anything fresh about the storyline. I'd give it a miss, unless you're just trying to pass time on a lazy Sunday afternoon. 

The last one that I saw and didn't really enjoy was Triple 9. I'm sure there were many worse movies than this out there but I just didn't watch them. You know how I said above that some slow burn are just straight up boring, that's this movie to a tee. The bf loves heist movies so we gave it a chance but it really is just boring. I honestly don't even remember what actually happens, nothing stuck with me. 

What topped your list for movies in 2016 and what are you most looking forward to in 2017?

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Best of 2016: TV Edition

The year is wrapping up and that means I'm here to share a few of my favourite things from the past year. I'm going to kick things off talking about TV and a few of the shows I've been hooked on in 2016. Included are a few new arrivals, some oldies but still goodies, a couple of new to me shows, and then three shots that just didn't make the cut this season. 

What about you guys? Any stand out shows you'd like to share from 2016? If you are looking for even more TV show suggestions you can check out my post from last year with the 'Best of 2015'. Onto the picks...

A British comedic gem! If you haven't embraced British comedies yet you really should, there is some great stuff (and a second entry further down this list!) Catastrophe is set in London where visiting American Rob knocks up Irish Sharon and then they fall in love and live happily ever after. Ok, not quite! Sure, it's a love story but there are many hilarious ups and down and they feel like a real life couple. There are two seasons out right now, both just six episodes long so it's an easy one to catch up. The third season is scheduled to be released in 2017 and I seriously CANNOT wait. 

Black Mirror
And yet another British entry on the list but this time it's a drama and not a comedy. Black Mirror delves into the dark side of technology and feels futuristic but also scarily current. Each episode is basically a stand alone with different plot lines and characters but the tech theme continues throughout the whole series. The very first episode will prep you for all the strangeness to come and the show will have you cringing, laughing and may just help cure your social media addiction (at least temporarily). 

Stranger Things
I feel a little stupid even adding this to the list because it feels like every single person and their dog has watched it. If you're the one person that hasn't jumped on the bandwagon yet you really should, and this is coming from someone who still hasn't made it through Game of Thrones. Netflix started out so strong with their original series (I'm thinking House of Cards and Orange is the New Black) but their more recent additions have been really hit or miss. Strange Things however is a big hit! There's a lot of 80's nostalgia incorporated into the show too and it's fun to pick parts from old classic pop culture. 

This is Us
The one and only network TV show that made my list this year. I have some old favourites that I still watch religiously (Grey's Anatomy) but This is Us is one of the few new 2016 shows that I've kept up with. It's very network and employs just about every single cliche you could imagine but it's also sweet and funny and charming...a nice contrast to some of the darker shows on the list. The show follows the lives of three siblings, their own lives and how they interact with their family. Some of the story lines are better than others (I would watch an entire show devoted to Randall) but the show works and I look forward to it every week. 

The third (and not final) British entry on my's kind of a thing for me this year I think. I would call Fleabag a dark comedy; there are lots of laugh out loud moments but it also tackles darker subjects like cheating and suicide. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the lead actress and she is fantastic. There are these quick moments where she speaks directly to the camera and they work so well in the show. There's only one six episode season thus far and it would make a perfect binge watch over Christmas holidays. 

The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
The OJ Simpson case had quite the revival this year with both this show and the documentary 'OJ: Made in America', which will come up again on my movie list. I was still pretty young when the trial happened so it was all a bit over my head but I do remember sitting in front of the TV watching the famous car chase. The TV show is really when done and has a lot of big name actors in the mix; John Travolta, Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr, David Schwimmer, etc. I actually had a hard time with David Schwimmer who played Robert Kardashian but that's just because he will always be Ross from Friends in my head. Whether you know a lot about the trial or not, this is definitely a mini-series worth watching. 

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Sometimes life can be challenging and you just want to curl up on the couch with a pint of ice cream and a good TV show....enter Kimmy Schmidt. It's light and fun and Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt will almost certainly brighten your day. I thought the second season was just as good as the first and both are available on Netflix. It seems like everyone is battling some sort of sickness right now and this is the perfect show to watch when you can't get yourself off the couch. 

Happy Valley
Last but not least we have (you guessed it) another British show! Happy Valley is anything but happy, it's intense and will keep you guessing. The lead character is wonderfully snarky and sarcastic police sergeant in a small, rural town tasked with investigating a string of horrific crimes. One thing about British cop shows that always gets me is how they don't carry guns! I'm so used to watching American TV and all their guns so it's a big surprise when an officer goes in with only a baton. All the episodes are available on Netflix. 

And I'm Giving Up On...
Those were the good and now for the shows that I quit watching this past season. You know how your PVR starts getting filled up and there's just certain shows that start adding up because you just never feel like watching them? That's what happened with these three. First up is The Blacklist. After such a solid first season the show took a turn for the boring and I just couldn't do it anymore. I took a long break from it during season 3 but did end up catching up in the summer. After it started up again in September I just had no interest in watching it anymore and it's now been deleted forever. The second show I gave up on was Quantico. I thought it was alright last year (first season) but it started dragging on by the end of the season and there are just so many other shows on my list that it got the cut. I'm finding more and more that those 20+ episode seasons on network TV are just too long and too big of a commitment. Finally we have a new 2016 that I tried to get into but just couldn't...The Good Place. I thought the whole concept (Eleanor gets sent to The Good Place after she dies but she doesn't belong there) sounded pretty stupid but I'm a fan of Kristen Bell so I gave it a few episodes to win me over and it didn't. The reviews for it aren't actually that bad so maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance, but I don't have any plans to go back and try again. 

One honourable mention to the one show that has redeemed itself to me goes to How to Get Away with Murder. This one sat on the PVR collecting episodes all season but I just recently caught up on all the episodes and I've totally been sucked back in...that Shonda!