Wednesday, 31 August 2016

13 Freebies that are Actually Useful

Round-up of freebies you'll actually use.

There are tons of offers out there buzzing around the internet for free samples, cash for doing surveys, and various other freebies that end up being a big waste of time. I'm sure a lot of you are just like me and don't want to spend hours answering stupid survey questions just to potentially get a few dollars (or cents) or have to stalk all sorts of websites begging for free samples. If that's your thing, have at 'er, but I need things to be a little more streamlined. Because of that I've rounded up a few resources for great freebies that you will actually use and are easy to get. 

1. Edmonton Public Library - If you live in Edmonton and don't have a library card I don't think we can be friends anymore. You can redeem yourself by going (right now) and signing yourself up. Even if you're not a big reader it's still worth it as not only does the library have books, they also have movies, TV shows, video games, magazines, digital database subscriptions, etc. It's free and easy to sign up, just stop into one of their 19 branches and get started. 

2. SampleSource - I've been a member of SampleSource for a few years now and have gotten my hands on plenty of great samples. I'm kind of a sample junkie (you can ask my bathroom cabinet), and SampleSource makes it really convenient to get a whole pack of samples delivered right to your mailbox. They usually have campaigns a couple of times a year, so I suggest signing up for an account, and you'll get an email notification next time a sample box is available. After you've received a box, they do ask you to complete a survey about your opinions on the products, but I've found the surveys to be pretty straightforward and don't take much time. Below is a picture of what was included in the last box I got:

3. CBC Television - I watch quite a bit of television and there aren't that many options for free TV viewing. There's always free trials for Netflix, Shomi, and all those streaming services but those will only last you so long. One really good option to check out is CBC. You can get free (no cable login required) access to all their shows streaming on the CBC website. I know some of you are rolling your eyes right now thinking CBC has nothing you'd be interested in but don't be too quick to judge. Try out X Company, Republic of Doyle or Being Erica.

4. Project Gutenberg - Another resource for free books. Project Gutenberg is a collection of written works that are part of the public domain and includes many of the classic books you've probably always said you should read. You'll be able to find works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickins, Mark Twain, etc. I don't know exactly how the collection works, but it has something to do without copyrights expiring after a certain amount of time.

5. OpenOffice - If you're like me you spend a lot of time on a desktop computer at work and next to no time on a computer at home. Almost everything I need at home can be completed on my phone or laptop (I've just got a cheap Chromebook), but every once in awhile I do need access to Word or Excel. Enter OpenOffice, a free software suite that will give you all the components of Microsoft Office for none of the money. It works, it's not fantastic, but for the limited time I need it at home, it absolutely serves its purpose.

6. Free Fitness - There's no need to get locked into paying for a gym membership every month as there are tons of great workout videos available for free on the internet. YouTube will become your very best get fit resource, and you can get your workout done in the comfort of your own home. Check out Fitness Blender for an extensive assortment of full-length workout videos that will get you whipped into shape, or if you prefer the yoga route, you should definitely check out Yoga with Adriene

7. Swagbucks - I've used Swagbucks for a few years now and have been rewarded with $250 in gift cards over that time, and that's not even trying too hard. Basically you earn Swagbucks a variety of ways and then redeem them for gift cards from a bunch of places including Amazon and Starbucks. You can earn bucks by using the Swagbucks search bar, doing surveys or just by online shopping. I used to do more surveys but now usually just get them via online shopping. After you sign-up you just go to the shop section and link to whatever site you're planning to buy from (there are lots of options), and you earn back Swagbucks for every dollar you spend. Simple! 

9. Free Nights at AGA - Right now you can get into the Art Gallery of Alberta for free on every Tuesday and Wednesday evening, or anytime you'd like if you are under 18 or a student in Alberta. It's a very good time to check out the current exhibitions and perfect for a cheap date night. Check your local museums and art galleries to see if they have a similar program running. 

10. Provincial Parks - Want to get out of the city and enjoy the outdoors but don't want to fork over a bunch of cash for park entry? Check out a provincial park instead of a national park. There are lots of great provincial parks in Alberta, and they won't cost you anything to get into. Plus, I've found they are just as well maintained and often quieter than the national parks. My favourite spot that is within day-trip distance of Edmonton is the Cooking Lake/Blackfoot Recreation area just East of the city. It actually borders on Elk Island so has a lot of the same wildlife and vegetation, lots of well-maintained hiking trails and beautiful picnic spots. 
Cooking Lake/Blackfoot Recreation Area - October 2015
11. Home Depot Workshops - If you have some home renovations that need to be completed but aren't exactly the best at DIY it is worth checking out your local Home Depot. They often have free workshops that you can attend to learn a new skill, and this could end up saving you a bunch of money if you no longer need to hire someone to do the job. 

12. Birthday Freebies - There are quite a few companies that offer birthday freebies, so it's worth checking to see if your favourite stores or restaurants have any perks. My all time favourite has to be Sephora, if you are a Beauty Insider, you will get a free product during your birthday month, and they are usually full-size, actually good products. Starbucks will also send you a coupon for a free drink on your birthday if you are a member of their rewards program and if you're a fan of burgers you can sign-up to Red Robin Royalty and get a free birthday burger. 

13. Free Printables - Just type this into Pinterest, and you will be overloaded with free templates and artwork that you can simply print off to use to organize your life or decorate your house. Sure, it's not going to be the fanciest artwork you've ever seen but it's better than bare walls, and real art is EXPENSIVE! I especially like the printable planners, as much as I am tied to my phone I still like to have a hard copy of my schedule at home, and when you use a pretty template, it even looks nice on your fridge. I like this print, these prints and this print and am currently using this weekly planner
Round-up of freebies you'll actually use.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Credit Card Perks: Travel Insurance

Credit Card Travel Insurance

If you're a frequent jet-setter you likely already have a credit card that pays you back in travel rewards, that's fairly common knowledge in this day and age. What you might not know however is that many of those very same travel rewards cards also give you insurance coverage for lots of the not so great things that can happen when you're on vacation. You know when you're booking a trip and you have to click through the part about accepting or rejecting medical insurance, trip cancellation insurance, car rental insurance, etc. All those things can cost you a pretty penny each time but skipping them might leave you with in a bad situation. For that reason, it's worth checking to see what coverage you currently have through your credit card and maybe even switching cards if you travel quite a bit. 

First, we're going to look at a few things you might want coverage from, and then we'll compare a couple travel cards and see what kind of coverage you can get. 

Emergency Medical or Travel Accident Insurance
These are the basics if you get sick or injured and have to seek medical assistance in another country you will be covered for the cost of those services. Accident insurance is an additional coverage that would pay out if there was a loss of life or dismemberment during the insured's trip. 

Trip Cancellation Insurance 
Pretty self-explanatory. If you have to cancel your non-refundable vacation at the last minute, you will be reimbursed and not have to pay for a trip you didn't take. 

Trip Interruption Insurance
Similar to trip cancellation but this would be if you are already on your vacation and have to come home early (or are delayed leaving) for some sort of emergency. Trip interruption coverage would pay for any costs associated with getting you home ASAP such as rescheduling flights, hotel cancellation, etc. 

Car Rental Insurance
Will cover you if you are renting a car and get in an accident or the car is damaged or stolen. 

Lost Baggage Insurance
If your luggage is lost, your insurer will cut you a cheque to cover it. 

We just recently booked a trip to Barcelona for November and the price we were quoted for medical, accident, cancellation, interruption and lost baggage insurance was $153 each. Now we are both healthy and fairly young so that price isn't that high, but it still ends up being more than the annual fee of most of the travel credit cards. Of course, if you're racking up debt on that same credit card you're going to see the insurance advantage run out real fast. These companies aren't crazy, more often than not they make their money back on your interest payments. Remember to always pay your balances in full, and you can reap the rewards. 

Here are a couple of card options that are available to give you an idea of what sort of coverage you can get. There are plenty more out there so take your time to do a little research and find the best fit for you. Just a note, the numbers provided below are a basic overview...there's always going to be some fine print involved when it comes to insurance. 

BMO World Elite MasterCard
  • Annual Fee: $150 / Interest Rate: 19.99%
  • 2 points per dollar on all purchases
  • Travel insurance coverage:
    • Medical: $2,000,000
    • Accident: up to $500,000
    • Cancellation: $2,500/person or $5,000/trip
    • Interruption: $2,000/person
    • Car Rental: $65,000
    • Lost Baggage: $750/person or $2,000/trip

TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite
  • Annual Fee: $120 / Interest Rate: 19.99%
  • 3 points per dollar
  • Travel insurance coverage:
    • Medical: $1,000,000
    • Accident: up to $500,000
    • Cancellation: $1,500/person or $5,000/trip
    • Interruption: $5,000/person or $25,000/trip
    • Car Rental: $65,000
    • Lost Baggage: $1,000/person

Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
  • Annual Fee: $99 / Interest Rate: 19.99%
  • 4 points per dollar on gas, groceries, restaurants & entertainment, 1 point per dollar on anything else
  • Travel insurance coverage:
    • Medical: $1,000,000
    • Accident: up to $500,000
    • Cancellation: $2,500/person or $10,000/trip
    • Interruption: $2,500/person or $10,000/trip
    • Car Rental: $65,000
    • Lost Baggage: $1,000/trip
Credit Card Travel Insurance

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Splurge-worthy Beauty Buys

Beauty products that are worth the price

Last week I talked about my favourite bargain beauty finds but today we're switching gears and taking a peek at the products I'm willing to fork over the big bucks for. You'll notice a bit of a trend here; most of the products I'm willing to splurge on go directly on my skin. I'm prone to the odd breakout and have somewhat fussy combination skin and do notice a difference when using cheap vs. higher quality products when it comes to skincare. I apparently also have a thing for products that come in turquoise packing...which I only realized when I collaged those pictures. Keeping my skin in good shape is important to me, it means less time (and money) spent on make-up. Nobody likes zits and decreasing their frequency is worth it to me. What about you guys, do you have specific products you are willing to splurge on? 

1. Briogeo Rosarco Repair Shampoo and Conditioner
I've been using this shampoo and conditioner combo for the last few months, and it has worked wonders on my winter-ravaged hair. I really hate strong smelling products, and this stuff is perfect; the scent is light and natural...just the right amount of coconuttiness (I may have just made that up). Briogeo products are sulfate, paraben, and phthalate free but I find that the shampoo still works up a good lather and, unlike many 'natural' shampoos I've tried, you don't need to double-up on the shampooing to get clean feeling hair. I'm planning on trying out their volumizing shampoo and conditioner when I run out because my hair tends to need less moisturization in the summer months. 

2. Estee Lauder NightWear Plus 3-Minute Detox Mask
I'm not really one to spend a lot of money on face masks but I got this for my birthday from my mom and it does wonders for my skin. Sidenote, you know you're getting old when your mom buys you a bunch of anti-aging products for your birthday. Anyways, this is a clay-type mask that spreads on easily and really does dry in three minutes. I have issues with clogged pores but after rinsing off this mask by skin feels super clean and smooth. 

3. Atelier Cologne - Orange Sanguine
I used to never wear perfume, not even for special occasions. I'm that person who constantly complains about people wearing strong perfume, it gives me an instant headache. But for whatever reason, this stuff just works for me. It is very orangey, so if citrus is not your thing, then it will likely be a hard pass. Atelier Cologne does have other scents that you might get hooked on though (I love their grapefruit one too, obviously I have a citrus thing). Perfume is never something I would spend money on myself, but it will definitely find it's way back on my Christmas list when I'm running low. 

4. Clinique Sonic System
This is another great item to add to your gift list (I can't be the only person that keeps an ongoing hidden Pinterest board for things I want people to buy me!) I've been using the Sonic System for almost two years and would replace it in an instant if anything happened to it. It's so good at deep cleaning your skin and getting every possible bit of gunk out of your pores. It also holds a charge forever; I swear mine lasts for 6 months and I use it every other day. The scrubbing head can also be replaced but I'm still using the one it came with, and it's been over a year. 

5. Tarte Amazonian Clay 12 Hour Blush 
I got a sample of this blush with a Sephora order and nearly immediately went and bought the full-size version. It is really easy to apply and blends better than any blush I've used before. I have the 'Captivating' colour which is a perfect peachy shade, and it is my go-to for daytime make-up. It also lasts forever! I can't even remember when I initially bought the full-size one and it I've hardly made a dent in it with near daily use. 

6. Rocky Mountain Soap Co Sunscreen
Sunscreen, the necessary least in my world. This stuff costs more than your run of the mill drugstore sunscreen, but it makes up for it with its greatness. I usually dread applying sunscreen because more often than not it is sticky, greasy and not so great smelling but Rocky Mountain Soap Co has solved all those issues. This lotion absorbs well, has shea butter for moisturizing and smells AMAZING. Plus it doesn't have any of that bad stuff you'll find in cheaper versions. 

7. Benefit Porefessional Face Primer
If you want your foundation to stay put and look good throughout the day (especially powder foundation) a primer really is essential, and this is my favourite. Yes, it's expensive...but a little goes a long way, and it is the smoothest, silkiest stuff ever. A thin coat of the primer will make a huge difference in the evenness and texture of your skin. I've even been known to use this and skip foundation all together. 

Beauty products that are worth the price

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Stop Passing Up FREE Money

Employee benefit plans
One thing that drives the personal finance geek in me crazy is when people lose out on money because of laziness. Now I'm not yelling at you for spending $10 for delivery to avoid driving to the other side of the city for something, but if you aren't taking advantage of an employee benefit plan then my wrath is directed at you. And trust me, it happens ALL the time. It might even be happening to you, right this second. 

Many employers offer defined contribution pension plans or group RRSP accounts where your big bad boss will match your contributions up to a specific amount. All you have to do is get enrolled in the plan and start making contributions. Yes, usually you will have to contribute some of your own money to get the free money but you 100% need to do that! I know, I're probably thinking that you might not be able to spare that extra $50 or $100 per month, but I'm here to tell you that you can. It's going to automatically come off your pay cheque, and I promise you won't even miss it. Then you're doing yourself a favour by getting a jump on saving, and you can think of it as getting a raise at the same time. If your boss is matching your $100 per month contribution that's like an extra $1,200 added to your salary every year. You wouldn't think twice about it if your boss offered you a $1,200 bonus, would you? By not enrolling in your group plan that is exactly what you are doing. Plus, if you're saving into an RRSP you'll also get a bump on your tax return. 

It really is that easy, and that's why it is so shocking how many people don't take the time to learn about what job perks are available to them. There was a study done in the States in 2005 by James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian called '$100 Bills on the Sidewalk'. They studied this exact phenomenon in the US and found that between 20% and 60% of participants lost up to 6% of their salary by passing up matching plans offered by their employers. Six percent might not sound like a lot, but it's money that's owed to you. I certainly wouldn't throw away 6% of my salary just for being a little lazy or uninformed. 

The typical process for employer-offered plans is that the employee has to 'opt-in'. I would love to see this changed so that the default option is automatic enrollment, and if you don't want to contribute you have to actually 'opt-out'. That way people aren't forced to save but it makes it that much more challenging not to and laziness would actually impact you positively for once! You can understand why employers would be against this; right now they get to boast about having a good pension plan but don't actually have to pay out the benefit to all of their employees. 

If you're not sure if you're missing out on a plan at work, then it is 100% worth your time to find out. You were likely given an employee package when you first started your job, pull that out and read it if you still have it. If not, talk to your HR department or your boss and see what perks are available that you might not be using. Here are a few examples that go beyond retirement savings...
  • Health benefits: you likely know if you have coverage for medical expenses but are you actually taking advantage of it? Make sure you are going to the dentist, doctor, optometrist, physiotherapist, etc. 
  • Travel insurance: many benefit plans also include travel insurance. Maybe you can avoid that added vacation expense if your coverage through work is good enough. 
  • Life/Disability insurance: most plans don't pay out high amounts of life insurance so you'll likely need to supplement that, but you should look and see just how much is available. 
  • Corporate discounts: if you work for a large company you might be able to get a discount on your cell phone plan, gym membership or even hotel bookings. Many companies are signed up for discount plans like Venngo that give group discounts for a variety of stores and services. For example, I always order movie passes through Venngo and they are almost 40% off the price at the theatre. 
Have I convinced you to double check with work and make sure you aren't missing out on any benefits? I sure hope so!

Employee benefit plans

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Busted Summer Budget

Keep your summer on budget in check.

I love summer, like so much, and this one has been no exception. It feels like every weekend has been jam-packed with activities. Edmonton isn't called 'Festival City' for nothing! It's one of the things I really love about the city. There are constantly events happening, and I have a hard time saying no to fun in the sun.

Here are a few highlights from our summer, thus far: 
  • The Tragically Hip concert...such a great show and so many feelings.
  • All the festivals...Street Performers, K-Days, Taste of Edmonton are always favourites.
  • Football and baseball games...there's not much better than drinking beer, watching sports, and sitting in the sunshine. 
  • Good eats...we made it out to Corso 32 for the first time, discovered Elm Cafe and had too many food truck dinners. 
All of that sounds amazing, right? Sure does, but there's one little all costs money! Every year I get to this point of summer and find myself going over my allotted spending money month after month. In the winter it is so much easier to stick to a budget because I basically go into hibernation mode from November to March. I've finally come to the conclusion that I need to build myself a summer slush fund when my budget isn't as strained (those hibernation months). Having multiple savings accounts is nothing new for me as I like to keep each account earmarked for a specific goal, whether that is my emergency fund, vacation fund, home renovation fund, etc. Knowing exactly what each dollar is being saved for makes it harder for me to justify spending the money on something else. Adding a new account to cover those added summertime expenses means I'll be able to do the things I want but without going over 

Spending money isn't consistent and almost everyone will have varied expenses throughout the year. Being aware of when your heaviest spending happens gives you time to prepare and create a budget that is flexible and accommodating. Changes my budget to increase spending in lower spending months (winter) means I will still have the cash flow available in my higher spending months (summer). Your schedule might look entirely different from mine...maybe you love to ski, so trips to the mountains increase your winter budget but you are willing to make sacrifices in the non-snowy months to fund those excursions. Don't feel like saving money always has to be for a long-term goal, like retirement, or a specific purchase. Savings accounts can be as flexible as you need them to be, and using them to balance your budget over the year makes perfect sense. 

My summer slush fund is a pretty solid plan for next year, but I also need to play catch-up on my excessive spending this summer. How am I going to do that? Well, let me share :) 

1. Shopping is off-limits: I've been a little too spendy this summer on things I don't really need, especially shoes which aren't usually my weakness. This stops now though! I'm cutting myself off from buying anything that's not a necessity until we head off to Barcelona in November. That scares me a little, but it's now written down so no take-backs. I'm not actually a huge fan of spending-bans (I preach balance), but sometimes you just need to go cold turkey to get yourself back on track. 

2. Sell some crap: this has actually been on my summer to-do list, but I've been so busy spending all my money that I haven't taken any time to earn some back. I promise it's not actually crap, just things we aren't using anymore that deserve a new home. Kijiji is my go-to for selling, and I've had good luck with it in the past. You do have to put up with some bartering and no-shows, but it is simple to post items and has a big base of buyers. 

3. Eat at home: this isn't going to be a be-all-end-all ban like with shopping, but I'm setting an eating out limit of twice a week for the remainder of summer and then once a week starting in October. I know there's still a few festivals and events we want to make it out to this month and so I'm being reasonable. There won't be any grabbing of take-out though unless we're eating out for an event, then dinner will be had at home. 

4. Save for next summer: I actually really like the idea of a summer slush fund, so I'm going to do it. This likely won't happen until we're back from our trip but even an extra $50 per paycheque (I get paid twice a month) from December to June will give us $700 to spend next year. That sounds like quite a bit of money, but looking at how much we've spent so far this summer it's in the right ballpark. 

How is everyone else doing with keeping their budget in line this summer? Do you also need to hit the refresh button and get back on track?

Keep your summer on budget in check.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Beauty on the Cheap

The best drugstore beauty products

**This post may contain affiliate links, which means I get paid from the company if you purchase the product. For more information, you can check my disclaimer, and I promise to only recommend products I've tried and love.**

Just because you have a bit of a make-up obsession doesn't mean you have to spend all your money on it. There are a ton of great options you can find at your local drugstore that will give you great results without the high price tag. Here are a few of my favourites:  

L'Oreal Paris Voluminous Mascara

This is kind of a cult classic among beauty bloggers and for good reason. There's none of that fancy new mascara technology here, no weird rubber wands or extravagant promises just a classic formula that actually works. Goes on nice and smooth without clumps and has lots of pigment. Pro tip: stick your mascara in your bra when you're getting ready to warm it up; it will go on much more smoothly. 

E.L.F Moisturizing Lipstick

Lipstick is one of those things I hate spending a ton of money on because no matter what I do, it just wears off. I'm not a fan of the super long-wearing formulas because they dry out my lips. I'd rather have to re-apply than be uncomfortable and that doesn't seem like such a big deal when you're only spending $3 a tube. This formula from E.L.F really is moisturizing and comes in a bunch of colours. The Ravishing Rose is my go to (the perfect 'my lips but better' shade), but I also like 'Flirty & Fabulous' for something a little brighter. E.L.F products can be a bit hard to find in Canada, but it's not too bad ordering from the States. You will have to pay for shipping but their prices are so low, and they ALWAYS have promos on. I have found their products popping up in more places recently (Old Navy weirdly enough) so keep an eye out. 

NYX Micro Brow Pencil

I lost my brow pencil sharpener awhile back, and it was no easy task finding a replacement (seriously, they are sold nowhere), so I grabbed this (non-sharpener needing) pencil on a whim and really love it. It's got a handy little brush on one end that works well to get your brows in place and for blending, and the actual pencil is great. I've used the pricey Anastasia pencil before, and this one is super similar and works almost as well. 

Vaseline Lip Therapy: Rosy Lips

I'm a big fan of these little Vaseline Lip Therapy tins and have tried out a few of the different version. The Original one is good, but I especially love the rosy version. It gives your lips a nice shine and just a hint of colour and keeps your lips moisturized. Easy, breezy, wait that's Covergirl. 

Not Your Mother's Clean Freak Refreshing Dry ShampooIf you don't have a good dry shampoo in your arsenal, you are seriously missing out. Who actually washes their hair anymore? Obviously I'm joking, but only kind of. I've tried a bunch of different ones from cheap to pricey and this version from 'Not Your Mother's' always seems to be the one I go back to. It's not the cheapest drugstore product you'll find, but it gets my vote. You also don't need to use a ton to see noticeable results, in fact, it's better not to so you avoid that grey halo look. 

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish

Again, not the cheapest nail polish you can buy at the drugstore, but this stuff goes on like a dream and actually holds up. I am hopeless at preventing chipped nail polish, and even for me this nearly doubles the time my polish looks acceptable. I really like the 'Dig Fig' shade (dark burgundies are kind of my thing), but there's a huge variety of colours to choose from. Make sure you use a base coat though because I have found the darker colours can stain your nails if you skip that step (not really that unusual but keep it in mind). 

Not Your Mother's Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray
I used to be totally brand loyal to the Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray but that stuff if not cheap so after having success with the Not Your Mother's Dry Shampoo I thought I'd try it out. It really is a great dupe. Smells yummy and gives just the right amount of texture to my somewhat limp locks. If won't the lottery I would probably switch back to the Surf Spray, but for now, this will do the trick. 

Maybelline The Blushed Nudes Eyeshadow Palette

Not willing to fork over the $65 odd bucks it costs to buy one of the actual Urban Decay Naked palettes then this set may be just what you're looking for. Full disclosure, I do actually have one of the Urban Decay palettes and love it, but there are quite a few shades I never wear (for some reason I can't pull off gold eyeshadow), so this set gives you way better value. 

The best drugstore beauty products