Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Pet Insurance

Do you need pet insurance?

Today I want to talk about pet insurance. It's kind of a divisive topic, some people swear by it, and other people hate it with a passion. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. It has become much more common in recent years, and today we're going to talk about my experience and why exactly I chose to get insurance coverage for my furry friends. I've talked about my critters on the blog quite a bit, but for any newbies, I've got two dogs and two cats. I actually only have insurance for the two dogs (I guess you could say I chose favourites)! My justification is that our cats are always kept inside which makes them less likely to get into a hazardous situation. One of our dogs is also a purebred Boxer, and they are known for having numerous health concerns, and I just think vet bills for dogs can add up faster than for cats. This may come back to haunt me, but I guess I'll just have to wait and see. 

Pets are not cheap (more on that here) and if you've ever had to deal with an emergency vet trip you will know that you can get stuck with a huge bill, we're talking thousands of dollars. My Boxer (Baxter) was my first dog, and when we got him we had just bought a new house, the bf was in school, and we just didn't have a ton of disposable income we could drop at the vet if something happened to him. That's why we got insurance coverage, we could afford the $60/month premium on an ongoing basis but if he got hit by a car and required emergency surgery to save his life then we could find ourselves in a really tough spot (and yes, I'm that person that will spend all my dimes on our pets). The $60/month was worth it and gave us the peace of mind knowing that we wouldn't have to put our finances ahead of our pup. 

I also went for the insurance on our second dog (Bree). She is 100% mutt so her monthly premium is about half the price of Mr Baxter's (everything about that damn dog is expensive) and it just seemed worth it. I figure that there is a pretty darn good chance we will have to use the insurance at some point for at least one of them, and it could very well pay for itself. If we just look at the numbers for Baxter, we pay $60 a month so $720 a year and about $7200 over his lifetime (based on 10-year life expectancy which is pretty standard for a Boxer). That sounds like a ton of money, but that would really only be maybe two or three big health scares...and that doesn't sound crazy to me (scary yes, crazy no). 

I made the decision to set a high deductible on our policies because the whole reason to buy it was for emergencies that we couldn't afford. Both dog's policies have a deductible of $1,000, so the only way we would be filing a claim is if something that is going to cost more than that. This keeps our monthly premiums affordable but still covers us if we really need it to. Both our pups also had a clean bill of health when we insured them, so there are not pre-existing conditions that are excluded from our plan. I know some coverage options have exclusions based on breed or the age of the dog, but that's not the case for us either. I think the companies offering pet insurance are putting in more rules as they learn more about the market (as insurance companies do) and making it harder to get claims approved. I can't speak to the claims process as I've never had to go through it, but you'll want to read the fine print and make sure the coverage you think you're getting is what you are actually getting. 

If you don't like the idea of paying for insurance for your pets, then there is an alternative. Everyone knows that pets cost money and part of being a responsible pet owner is being prepared in an emergency. You can create your own sort of insurance by setting up an emergency fund specifically to cover pet costs. Instead of paying money to an insurer every month you can put save it yourself. The only concern with that is if something happens before you've had a chance to save up enough. Then you would need a plan to cover the shortfall. If I were to add another dog to our family (we are absolutely not, two is plenty), this is the route I would take at this point in time. It gives you more control over your money, and if you don't ever need to make a claim, you don't lose all the premiums you paid into the policy. That doesn't mean I regret our decision to pay for insurance. At the time it was the decision that made the most sense.

If you are looking to get pet insurance, there are quite a few options out there for coverage. The one we are with is called Trupanion, and I'm happy with it. As I said, we haven't had to submit any claims, but I think their pricing is competitive and fair. Applying is easy, and they have a straightforward website. 

You can also look into Petsecure, Pets + Us, or there's even PC Pet Insurance (yes, the grocery store). 

What is your take on pet insurance, absolutely essential or a complete waste of money? 

Do you need pet insurance?

Friday, 8 April 2016

Farewell Rexall Place

Farewell Rexall Place
Ok, I realize in my last ramblings post I had all but written off the Oilers and had actually hoped for a loss in the final game, but boy did I ever change my tune! The bf had been on the hunt for tickets for awhile, but we (me) weren't willing to spend a fortune on them, and there were some ridiculous prices out there. I had zero intentions of actually going and never thought we'd get tickets, but I got a text from the bf at 2:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon (2.5 hours before game time!) saying he got tickets and we were going. 

Flash forward to the game...it was AMAZING! They won me back in a big way, and I'm feeling just a little excited for next season, and a little sentimental about leaving behind the old barn. Hopefully, the new arena will bring us some better luck, and a few (a lot) more wins next year. Everything was kicked off with a pretty intense production of O Canada through a video of Paul Laurier during the 2006 playoff run. Goosebumps people, major goosebumps. 

Farewell Rexall Place

The actual game was a good one and after a pretty sluggish first period the flood gates opened, and we ended up winning 6-2. Seems like we always play Vancouver for the last home game of the year and they get to deal with our big celebrations (Ryan Smyth's retirement two years ago and now Farewell Rexall). Sorry...not sorry! Thank God the Oil pulled out a win though, it really set things up for the rest of the night. 

video

Let's just say it was a good thing the game was bumped up until 5 pm. I know there were some angry people but I appreciated it, I had to work the next morning and still wasn't home until after 11 pm. It would have been 1 am if the game went at 8 pm as originally scheduled. After the game was over, there was a 30-minute break before the 90ish minute celebration began 

The Edmonton Symphony was even in the house and set-up on the ice and played for ALL the introductions...and there were A LOT of introductions, over 150 old and current players, trainers and coaches. There were a lot of people I didn't really know (I was born in 1986 so wasn't exactly in the loop during the dynasty era) but also some notable absences. I was hoping to see Andy Moog, Jason Arnott, Doug Weight and Todd Marchant but those guys weren't there...apparently lots of guys still work in the NHL. Anyways, the big superstars were all there (Gretzky, Messier, Fuhr, etc.) and of course Ryan Smyth who actually got the biggest ovation of the night...gotta love him! Side note here, Wednesday night was great but Ryan Smyth's last game was actually better; at least in my opinion. The current players were also brought out, so that was good. After all the intro's John Shannon and Gene Principe did a bunch of interviews, some videos were shown, and then the whole thing wrapped up with a stick salute at centre ice. 

video

All in all in was such a good night, and I'm really happy we ended up going. I've been to a lot of hockey games, concerts and other events at Rexall and have a lot of memories. It is a little weird though, I kept thinking of it as my last time at Rexall, but I'm actually back there in two weeks for Rihanna...what the what! 

Farewell Rexall Place

What did you guys think of the festivities? 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Prioritizing Your Money

Save first or pay off debt?

A question that comes up time and time again is what you should be doing with any extra money you have, either in your monthly budget or from a one-time bonus. Do you save into your emergency fund first or pay off some debt? Today I'm going to set out what I think you should prioritize first and my reasoning behind it. 

Number one is probably the hardest, and most contentious, but I am taking the firm stance of paying off debt above everything else. Emergency funds are vital but if you are just starting out and have to make the choice I think it's best to get a jump on those high interest payments and put your money towards your debt. If tragedy strikes and you have an unexpected expense you may find yourself back where you started, either dipping into your newly funded emergency fund or charging it to your credit card. If you do have to use your card, you've at least saved a bit on the interest payments in the meantime. 

#1 Pay Down your Debt (the high-interest stuff)
I talk way more about paying down debt in this post, but you basically want to choose either the 'Ladder' or the 'Snowball' method and just keep on trucking. For our prioritization here I want you to focus on your high-interest debt, we're talking credit cards, unsecured lines of credit, etc. Don't worry about paying extra towards your mortgage, student loans or even low-interest car loans at this point. 

#2 Tackle that Emergency Fund
Once you've got all your high interest debts handled you're going to start putting that money towards your emergency fund. I like to use a no-fee, high interest savings account for this so you get a little interest but it is easy to access. PC Financial and Tangerine have good options. Building up your emergency fund will allow you to pay-off any expenses that creep up on you and not have to dip back into your credit cards. When unexpected expenses come up (because they will!) pay them, and then top-up your emergency fund as you can. You'll want to have about 3 months (at a minimum) of living expenses stashed away so you will have a bit of breathing room if you lose your job or your dog has to go in for emergency surgery (those vet bills are killer). 

Those first two are the biggies, and the ones that will cause you the most grief if you don't have them handled. The next points you have a little more freedom to mix and match, depending on your comfort level and priorities. Maybe you split your extra cash equally between the next four points, maybe you go with 50% towards retirement, 30% towards low-interest debt, and 10% to a big ticket item. My only stipulation, saving for retirement should be the biggest (or at least equal to the biggest) expenditure on the list. I know it's not flashy and fun or as satisfying as paying off a loan but being old and broke isn't what you want, and no, you aren't going to win the lottery. Deal? 

Work on that Low-Interest Debt
This will include paying off any outstanding car loans or increasing your mortgage payments. A lot of mortgages will allow you to increase your payments by a certain amount and also put down an annual lump sum. Take advantage of this, you don't need to do the whole amount but increasing your monthly (or even better, bi-weekly) payment by even 10% will cut down how long you'll be paying off the mortgage and how much interest you'll pay. The more debts you pay off in full the more monthly income will be freed up for other things. 

Save for Retirement
The younger you start the less you have to save thanks to the wonderful process of compounding interest. Investing even $100/month in your 20's will make a significant difference in the amount of money you will have in retirement. If you're jumping onto the bandwagon a little late you'll need to save more, no question about it, but the most important thing is getting started. 

RESP Contributions
If you don't have children you can skip this point but if you do you may want to factor RESP contributions into your monthly budget. If you want to set some money aside for your children(s) education, RESP's are a great way to get an additional benefit through the available government grants. More info here

Save for a Big Ticket Item
This could be anything from an annual vacation, to a new car, to a home reno but if you have something you want then start saving for it. And your emergency fund does not count for this! This shouldn't be your top priority but I'm giving you the A-Ok to put a portion of your monthly savings towards something in this category. Some people go into full gear retirement savings mode and aren't able to get out enjoy life in the present. I like to think balance, live decently well now and decently well later instead of poorly now and fantastic later ;) 

There you have it, once you get past steps one and two you will be able to create a workable budget outline to get you ahead of the game. There's also room for flexibility so if your priorities change (say you have a baby) you can change up your proportions or add amounts if you come into some moula. Happy saving! 


Save first or pay off debt?

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Why Owing at Tax Time is a Good Thing

Filing your taxes
If you're like me and haven't filed your taxes yet there's probably a pretty good chance it's because you owe money to good old CRA. When I was just out of school and had all those education credits to claim I always had my taxes filed ASAP so I could get that refund but these days I'm always owing money and leave it as long as possible. 

Now, who hates having to pay up come tax time? Everyone right...my hand is raised. The thing is though, it's actually a good thing to have to pay CRA come tax time.

Let's talk about why. Basically, if you owe money at the end of April it means that you didn't pay enough tax during the year so CRA has give you an interest free loan for that time. Not a bad deal right? You're not going to be able to get a loan from anywhere else that isn't going to cost you anything. And if we look at it the other way, if CRA actually owes you money, it means that you have given CRA an interest free loan for the year...not exactly what you were planning on right? 

Now don't get wrong, I completely understand how crappy it is to cut a cheque to pay your taxes and also how exciting it is to get a big refund. Let's compromise, the goal come filing time is to be as close to even as possible. You don't owe anything and they don't owe you anything. That way you're in control of more of your hard-earned cash year round and can do with it what you please; saving it all away for a rainy day obviously ;) 

How can you make keep track of where you stand tax wise? Keep an eye on those pay stubs so you know exactly how much you are bringing in and can make sure your employer is taking off the right amount of tax. That's not always the case, I know my old employer didn't take enough off and I got caught owing a bigger amount than I expected one year. You can always ask your employer to adjust your with-holding tax if need be. If you're self-employed or just have some side income make sure you track that too. It's important (vital) to set aside a portion of your income so you can pay your taxes when they come due. 

Long story short, don't curse too much if you have to pay CRA at this time of year...you're actually getting a bit of a deal! 

Filing your taxes