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. 

Deadpool
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?) 

Arrival
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

Ghostbusters
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...

Catastrophe
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. 

Fleabag
The third (and not final) British entry on my list....it'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! 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

CRM2 - It's Coming


I've been a little MIA lately so first off let me apologize for that! December is always a busy month and we are hosting Christmas this year which means I've got a long list of things to-do before next weekend. I was also flattened by a bad cold last week and am just now feeling human again. Basically I've had zero motivation to do anything but lie on the couch and watch Law & Order SVU on Netflix. Enough for my excuses, let's get to a real post! 

There's a pretty good chance you've never heard of CRM2 but if you're an investor you should familiarize yourself with the basics to avoid any confusion when you get some weird statements in the New Year. Let's first get the acronym out of the way (finance people sure love a good (bad) acronym); CRM2 stands for the 'Client Relationship Model part 2'. And what it means for you is more transparency when it comes to the fees you pay for your investments and the returns you are earning on said investments. Sounds great right? Yes, it's a good thing but there are some factors you need to keep in mind when you're evaluating the new reports. You may have heard some negative opinions regarding CRM2 and financial advisors complaining about how it's going to ruin them...it's not, or at least it shouldn't. The advisors who are most concerned about the effects of CRM2 are the problem children that have made it necessary in the first place by not properly disclosing fees and manipulating performance data.  


The new CRM2 model was implemented on July 15, 2016 but all investment firms were given one year to gather the necessary data before they had to starting sending the reporting to clients....that would bring us to July 2017. So why are we talking about this now? Well, a lot of firms in the industry have decided it's more simple to run the numbers based on the calendar year so most of you will see the more detailed statements hit your mailboxes (inboxes) in January. 

Fee Disclosure - How much are you actually paying? 
The biggest factor in this is likely to be the fee transparency. As investors we pay certain fees to get into the market and these include commission charged directly by your advisor, mutual fund fees, administration fees charged by your financial institution and taxes. Some of these fees you'll be aware of but others, like the mutual fund fees, have always been embedded within the investment and not openly disclosed. Now you'll get a neat little print out of everything you have paid to your to your financial institution. One thing to note if you've got a specific advisor you work with, is that they are not lining their pockets with all of that money...a lot of what you pay will go back to the bank or dealer they work for. 

This is a change for the better but maybe take a deep breath before you read the actual dollar amounts. Your advisor may be really open about fees but only ever talk about them as a percentage of your portfolio. A 2% fee on a $100,000 portfolio might not sound like much but that's $2,000/year...how are those the same thing right?! It helps to think about all the things your advisor provides for you...maybe they prepare financial plans (they should be!), maybe they run free seminars, maybe they give you advice to reduce your tax bill, or can walk you through your pension plan. All of these things would cost you money if you went to a fee for service planner....we're talking $500+ to get a comprehensive financial plan. 

There is an exception that you wont find on the new reporting and that's mutual fund MER's (management expense ratios). These fees are charged directly by the fund company and are their cost of doing business. Because they aren't paid out to your advisor/dealer they are exempt from CRM2. The MER will depend on the fund with more aggressive funds usually charging higher fees (more active trading); a bond fund will usually charge between 1% and 1.5% while an equity fund will be >2%. Specific MER information is included in the 'Fund Facts' document you should receive prior to purchasing a mutual fund. You will see information regarding trailer fees (what the mutual fund company pays your advisor for buying the fund) and DSC (deferred sales charges). DSC funds are bad news and a lot of companies are moving away from them so if you're being pushed towards them you might want to run away.  

Performance Disclosure - How much are you actually making? 
The whole reason you invest your money is to make more of it so you want to see your statement balances going up, up and up some more. Obviously this doesn't always happen, you're going to have some bad months or even years but over the long term you want to be growing your net worth. The new performance disclosure with CRM2 is going to give you easier access to that information on a more standardized level. Prior to this, dealers could choose their method for calculating your returns but now all Canadian dealers have to use a money-weighted calculation...I'm not going to go into detail about that here but you can read this article if you'd like more info. You will now be given annual information that includes any deposits and/or withdrawals from your accounts, the change in dollar value of your account, and rates of return based on the last one, three, five and ten years. Because this initiative was only introduced in July of 2013 the dealer only needs to go back to this point, so you wont be seeing a five or ten year return in 2017. These values will also be impacted by how long you have held your investments with your current firm, if you've only been a client for two years your returns will only date back that far. 

Seeing big positive returns on your statement is great but you have to keep your risk level in perspective. If you're a low risk investor you cannot expect to see double digit returns on either the positive or negative side and shouldn't be disappointed with returns under 5%...if you put that money in a 100% safe savings accounts you'd be lucky to get 1%. Also, keep in mind how the market has done as a whole. If an appropriate benchmark (an index with similar investments to yours) is sitting at -20% for the year and you're at -8% you really didn't do so poorly did you? 

It can be frustrating to see all the fees you are being charged in a year when your returns are low but as long as your longer-term returns are positive and your advisor is providing you with services you feel are important you shouldn't stress about it too much. However, if you are seeing poor returns year over year it might just be time to look for a new strategy.

Those are the basics of the new CRM2 model, if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments. And keep an eye on your January (or maybe July) investment statements to see the new detailed reporting. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Why I'm a Downtown(ish) Dweller


Winter struck Edmonton with a vengeance this week and it doesn't look like there is much relief in the near future. The one positive is that we got a little bit of snow so everything is now white instead of brown but that doesn't nearly make up for having to suffer through -30 temperatures for the next week or so. I really hate the cold weather...I realize I'm not alone in this and that I did decide to plant roots here in Edmonton but complaining about the weather (not risk taking) is about the most Edmonton thing we can do ;) 


One thing this weather makes me appreciate is where I live; there's no long commute for this girl! When we decided to buy a house six years ago the most important thing for us was to be centrally located and we made that happen by buying in Westmount (a great little neighborhood just off downtown). Chances were pretty good at the time that we would both have jobs downtown (which we do) and being close to work to avoid a long daily commute topped the necessity list. 

I grew up in St. Albert (a suburb of Edmonton) and suffered through the commute down to the University for years so when house hunting became a reality I knew that would be a deal breaker. Rush hour makes me crazy (even on my current 5 minute drive) and add winter road conditions to the mix and you get one very cranky Sarah. I don't even have winter tires on my car (I know, sacrilege) because of how little I actually drive. And when the weather isn't so apocalyptic cold I can even walk to work...exercise and convenience. There's also the added perk of cheaper vehicle related costs. My limited driving means that I don't have to allot much of my budget to gas; I usually only fill up my tank once a month and it costs about $45. This also translates to low mileage on my car and less frequent maintenance requirements. I purchased my car brand new in October 2010 and it currently has just over 62,000 kms on it. I've also never had to have anything major fixed on it (I'm knocking on wood right now because my warranty also just expired). One last thing that you may not have considered is cheaper auto insurance. Lots of companies will give you a bit of a discount for having a short commute or for using your car only for pleasure. Less gas and maintenance and discounted insurance all put extra money in my pocket because I made the decision to live and work in the same area. 

The lack of a lengthy commute was the big thing for me but there are also plenty of other advantages to living near downtown. For most cities I've traveled to there tends to be more activities in the downtown core than in other parts of the city and this is certainly the case in Edmonton. I'm sure there are exceptions (my downtown bias might be showing) but most of the good restaurants we have are located in or around downtown whereas the suburbs usually have more chain restaurants. Sure, every once in awhile you might just want Swiss Chalet for dinner and not have any locations near you (this is actually a thing for us; someone bring me a festive special!) but most of the time we go out for a nice meal it's to a local restaurant and not a chain. The same logic also applies to events and festivals. Our new downtown arena has made this even more true but even before that most of the concert venues, theaters and festival grounds are all within easy access to our house and makes it more likely that we'll actually get out and experience things. If I had to drive 30+ minutes to go see a show it would limit how often I'd be willing to do that. 

Living downtown isn't all sunshine and roses, there a few things you should consider. The most common con you hear about buying a home central is that you get less bang for your buck, meaning you'll pay more for a smaller home. This is absolutely true and if square footage is the most important thing on your house hunting list then the suburbs might be perfect for you. For me, this really wasn't even worth considering...more house means more cleaning, and I really hate cleaning. Our current place is about 1300 square feet and it's perfect for us. We'll likely need to up-size if we add kids to the mix but that's a problem for another day and I'll enjoy only having to clean 1.5 bathrooms for the time being. There's also a good chance your dollar wont stretch as far as you might think. If you factor in the added commuting costs to your budget some of that suburb advantage will disappear. 

One factor I can't write off, and has caused us a few headaches, is the age of the homes. By their very essence, central neighbourhoods are old and that means you're likely going to end up with a house that's got a little history in its walls. Now don't get me wrong, I think old homes are charming and mature neighbourhoods have so much more character with their unique (non cookie-cutter) homes and mature trees, but brand new homes give you more stability. If you buy new you aren't going to have to worry about your furnace conking out in the middle of winter, replacing a leaky roof, or lining up pictures on crooked walls. Side note, I just had a complete mental block on how to spell crooked....I've grown to embrace the quirks in our 80 year old home but a small part of me would appreciate not always having a nagging worry about what the next big expense will be. But why can't I have it all?! Maybe that's what you're asking right now, and sure, if you've got the bankroll to do it you can buy a new build in an old neighbourhood. It's going to cost you though...back to the old bang for your buck cliche. That is actually my end goal one day, tear down our current place and rebuild on the same lot. We've got a big, corner lot on a perfect block and I can't imagine moving so now we just have to win the lottery ;) I do think it would be so much fun to plan and design a new place, that might just be the biggest perk of a new build...as long as I don't have to move out to the boons! 

What are your thoughts? Where do you guys fall on the downtown vs suburbs debate? 

Friday, 2 December 2016

7 Ways to Pinch Pennies


Maybe the Christmas season has you seeing red and dreading the January credit card bills or maybe you're wanting to set some money aside for a new car, fancy vacation or just simply increase your cash flow. Whatever the case, everyone can use a little extra cash in their wallets, especially at this time of year. Today I'm going to share a few of my favourite penny pinching tips. 

If you are dealing with a little (or a lot) of debt you can check my post here to help you get started on a repayment plan. Every little bit of extra money really comes in handy to when you're trying to kick start your debt elimination. 

Here we go folks, try a couple or try them all and make sure to brag about how much you cut out of your budget in the comments. 

Ditch Unnecessary Monthly Expenses
Perhaps you're a sucker for magazine subscriptions, still have a home phone, or maybe you pay for Spotify premium and hardly ever use it (note to self...) Whatever your weakness is, monthly expenses can do some serious damage to your budget and save you some serious coin if you're willing to let go. The easiest way to do this is pull up your last couple months of bank account and credit card statements and see what you are actually paying for. If there's anything you can live without cancel it, right now, you can always get it back later if you find you really do miss it. If you've got a magazine subscription and maybe one too many TV streaming services that can be cancelled you could save yourself around $15 a month or $180 a year. That's not nothing folks. Or maybe you can go even bigger and cancel your cable all together, even if you just do it for the summer months when you're likely watching less TV you'll save a ton of money. We still have cable in this house but I would be a-ok cancelling except for watching sports. We're big Oilers fans and there really just isn't a great option to live stream sports at this point. I know Sportsnet has a streaming service for all their channels but it's $25/month which is as much as our basic cable package...seems crazy. 

Negotiate with Service Providers
It really is worth your time to run through your list of recurring bills and make a few phone calls to negotiate a lower rate. Even if you're still under contract it's worth giving it a shot, there might be something you're paying for that you don't really use; a specialty TV channel package, or voicemail on your phone (who doesn't hate voicemail). If you're out of contract then it can be even more worthwhile as you can use the threat of leaving to get the most bang for your buck (ask for the retention department as they are usually the ones who can give the biggest discounts). Do some research before calling to see what other providers are offering to new customers and use those numbers in your negotiations. And if you're not having much success, don't be afraid to switch providers. We switched our TV and internet to Telus last year because they offered us a really fantastic promo. Just remember that promo rates are temporary, so make sure the regular rate is cheaper or comparable to what you're currently paying so it doesn't end up costing you more in the long run. These tactics can be used for internet, cable, cell phones, insurance...just about anything you have to sign a contract for. 

Make a Budget and Stick to it
You don't need some crazy detailed, elaborate budget but you do need to figure out what money is coming in and going out every month. Run the numbers to work out how much you actually need to live on each month and set that aside, whether that's kept in your chequing account or you take it out as cash. Don't forget to leave yourself a little room in the budget for fun. I'm a big believer in living for now and living for the future...it's a balancing act. Living on a too tight budget can just end up making you frustrated and not having enough motivation to stick with it. Budgeting is just like dieting, you need to leave room for the odd treat to save yourself from eating an entire pizza. Any leftover cash flow will go towards savings or to pay off debt, and I want you to set these up as automatic payments. That way money goes where it's supposed to as soon as it comes in so you're not tempted to spend it on that pretty blouse you saw at the mall (or online, because who still goes to the mall). Give yourself a couple of months to tweak the amounts if needed but if you're serious about this you want to stay strict with yourself. Your budget can be as simple as a post-it note on the frige but there are also great apps you can use so your budget is always accessible on your phone. I like Mint, it's free and links up with most Canadian banks and let's you track bank accounts, investment accounts and credit cards. 

Sell Stuff
Have a basement overflowing with stuff you don't use anymore? Get listing on Kijiji and make some extra cash! What could be better than getting paid to purge?! I know some people really hate cleaning out their closets or getting rid of things but I actually love it. I find it so frustrating to pull something out of my closet that I hate or have kitchen cabinets overflowing with appliances that never get used. As long as the things you want to get rid of still have a little life left in them then you should definitely be listing them on Kijiji instead of tossing them in the trash...environmentally and economically friendly. You can sell just about any household items on Kijiji, another's person's junk right. Make sure to set realistic prices (check out some similar listings) and be prepared to barter with people. If your item does sell within the first few days it's a good idea to delete and re-post the ad so it goes back to the top of the list, older ads tend to disappear into obscurity. 

Get Paid to Shop Online
I love getting my shopping done online and you can often get better discounts than you can in store, especially if there's free shipping available. I don't think I've stepped foot in a brick and mortar store for Christmas presents yet this year, everything has been done either online or at a couple of local craft sales. Another perk is that there are sites you can use to get rewards for buying stuff online. My favourite is Ebates because you get actual cash back from shopping at lots of online stores you're probably buying from anyways (think Amazon, Sephora, Old Navy, etc). Swagbucks is another good option and lets you earn rewards for online shopping but also doing surveys and other tasks. For both sites you set up an account and then link through there to any of the sites they partner with and then do your online shopping just like normal. For Ebates you will earn cash back and they will send you a cheque when you get to $25. Swagbucks is a bit different in that you earn points (Swagbucks) and you use those points to redeem for gift cards.


Pack a Lunch
Everyone already knows this but it's worth the reminder because it really will save you a ton of money. Eating out is expensive so if you can cook most of your meals at home you should. I'm horrible at making a lunch but we are good about cooking dinner at home so I try to pick dinners that will have enough for leftovers the next day. If I have to make a sandwich in the morning I'm setting myself up for failure but if there's a container of leftovers I'm good to go. Plus, I hate wasting food so I'll make sure those leftovers get eaten. The hardest part of sticking to a bag lunch plan for me is resisting the temptation when co-workers go out. My office is terrible for eating out way to often so we've made a deal (that we try very, very hard to stick to) that we can only eat out once a week. 

Use the Library
I only just got a library membership last year but holy man is it ever amazing! Depending on where you live this might not be as great for you but the Edmonton Public Library is seriously awesome. Membership is 100% FREE and they have a huge selection of books, ebooks, movies, music...pretty much everything. Sure, sometimes you need to need to go on a waiting list for more popular books (I think I'm still number 1 million and some for 'The Nest'), but if you're an avid reader there is no other way to read as much as you want for free. The EPL website is easy to use and you can download ebooks, save books to read in the future, and access online resources. When you put a book on hold they even transfer it between libraries so you can always pick-up at the most convenient location while still having access to resources across the city. And, if there's a book the EPL doesn't have you can request it and they really do listen!

There you have it, 7 ways to limit to expenses and free up some extra money to pay your bills or stash away for the future. If you'd like to share any of your favourite penny pinching tips feel free to post in the comments.  

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Barcelona

I am kind of in shock that it's already been two weeks since we got back from Barcelona, it honestly feels like we landed too days ago...jet lag is for real folks! I'm finally getting down to business though and have put together the following recap of our trip and to share the wonderfulness that is Barcelona.

First off a quick shout out to AMA for helping us out and organizing a fantastic trip that ran smoothly from start to finish. If you're a regular follower of the blog you may remember my moment of rage when initially trying to get things sorted out but that has all but been forgotten. 

Travelling overseas is always a bit of a hassle because of the crazy long and painful flight but we flew KLM and were really impressed. It's still just plane so keep your expectations moderate but all of our flights were perfectly on time and they feed you, like a lot, and even offer free booze. Perks! There's no free WiFi but the on flight entertainment had a big selection of movies and games. There's a direct flight from Edmonton to Amsterdam (that has been available for really low prices so keep your eyes open) and then it was just a quick flight to Barcelona. The Amsterdam airport is pretty big and we had a bit of a layover on the way there to explore but our connection on the way back was tight so we had to hustle...the only stressful part of the flights. 

Once we got to Barcelona we jumped on the bus (they have a cheap airport shuttle that went right close to our hotel) and went to our hotel to get settled. We stayed at the H10 Urquinaona Plaza which I have no qualms about recommending to anyone. It was only a couple of blocks from 'Las Ramblas', which is the big touristy spot in Barcelona, and we were able to walk to almost everything we wanted to see. Our room was also pretty spacious with a king size bed and a small balcony with a nice view of the Plaza. If you happen to stay at the hotel I would request a room that faces the square instead of one of the interior rooms as those looked to be much smaller. 

Boring stuff over, now onto all the sights....and all the pictures :)

Barcelona is known for it's architecture and Sagrada Familia is by far the most famous so of course we had to visit. I actually studied some of Gaudi's work in a random art history class I took in University but trust me when I say that pictures do not do this place justice. The details in the stonework are ridiculous, the ceilings are so high and it's so bright and open inside compared to any other church I've been in. We went on an organized tour (with a guide who looked like a young Robert De Niro) and it included a trip up one of the towers. There's an elevator that takes you 65m up and then you climb down a tight staircase back down to the ground. The views on the way down are beautiful (top right and bottom left below) and make it a worthwhile add-on. Sagrada Familia is still under construction (has been since 1882) but they are hopeful it will be finished in 2026 (the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi's death). I would love to go back when it's all completed to get another look. 

The second organized tour we took was up to Montserrat, a monastery built up in the mountains on the side of a cliff. We did a tour that included the cog train ride up, which was pretty cool and looked to be an easier ride up than the bus. We did however bus back down and the road is steep and twisty; I'm known to get car sick sometimes but survived the trip and was happy to do it. The views are beautiful and the monastery itself is an impressive feat...how they built such an intricate building in that location blows my mind. Make sure to grab some cheese from the sellers along the road, we brought a couple of blocks back home with us (so delicious!) 

We also had to pay a visit to Park Guell, another attraction that showcases Gaudi's unique architecture. It was crazy windy the day we went but that didn't take away from the whimsical architecture that is featured throughout the Park. There is a free access area with hiking trails up in the hills but you really want to buy tickets and get access to the monuments section to really get the full impact. I loved all the detailed mosaics, they're so colourful and fun.






We had a total of eight days in Barcelona which sounds like a long time for one city but we were busy everyday and never ran out of things to see. On our second last day we actually did a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus tour so that we could see all the sights we hadn't made it to. We did the tour on a Sunday which worked well because the city really grinds to a halt on Sunday with most businesses closing up but all the tourist attractions are open. The tickets were kind of expensive and you could easily use public transit (the bus or metro) to make your way around the stops but the bus tour made things easy and efficient. Here's just a few highlights we made stops at: 

Gaudi's Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
Gaudi's Casa Batllo
MNAC - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
1992 Barcelona Olympics Flame
Parc de la Ciutadella
Barcelona Cathedral

Arc de Triomf
A must visit (another one) in Barcelona is the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Bouqueria, which is a huge food market situated along Las Ramblas. If you're any sort of foodie or just like to eat this is the place to be! It's overflowing with local vendors featuring everything from fresh sea food, to cured ham, to handmade marzipan. You HAVE to grab one of the fresh juices (lots of stands have them) and the displays look so stunning with their bright colours...I may have had two and if I could bring one thing from Barcelona to Edmonton it would 100% be those juices. There's also a bunch of tapas restaurants within the market and it's a great way to grab a quick bite. 

When you travel with a guy with a not so slight obsession with fish tanks you have to make a visit to the aquarium. It wouldn't ever be at the top of my must-do list but I was actually pretty impressed. There are a ton of tanks featuring all sorts of fish and sea animals and a huge underwater tunnel with sharks and stingrays. And they had penguins, who doesn't love penguins? 

One of my favourite things about Barcelona were all the tiny, intricate alleyways in the Gothic Quarter that are lined with shops and restaurants. You could walk for hours (and we did) up and down tiny alleyways and never find your way back to where you started. It's such a unique layout for a city (nothing like the big wide, non-pedestrian friendly streets of North America) and I absolutely loved the old school charm. There's also graffiti art painted on many exterior doors so even when stores are all locked up it still feels really welcoming. 


Probably the only part of Barcelona that was a bit of a let down was the food. I shouldn't be surprised though as Spain is really known for it's Paella and that's just not really my thing. Obviously we ate some and it was really good but even the best Paella in the world wont make it to my top foods list. They did however have giant jugs of Sangria and you can't go wrong with that. We also ate our body weight in tapas over the trip and I became hooked on the croquettes that you could find everywhere. This isn't to say we didn't have great meals during our stay, we had some really yummy sushi and a delicious burger at an Irish pub (because sometimes when you're hangry after a long day of exploring you just need a burger).

Phewf, longest post ever! To sum up, Barcelona is awesome...go visit!