Are Canadians saving enough for retirement?

27 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

Are Canadians saving enough for retirement? It depends who you ask.

A BMO survey conducted in early 2014 revealed that only 43% of Canadians planned to make RRSP contributions by the March 1st deadline, down from 50% the previous year. An October 2014 study from the Conference Board of Canada reports that almost four in 10 Canadians are not saving and nearly 20% of respondents said they will never retire.

Yet a 2015 study of 12,000 Canadian households conducted by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says that four out of every five of the nation’s households are on track to maintain their standard of living in retirement. The research reveals that most of the unprepared households belong to one of two groups of middle to high-income households:

  • Those who do not contribute enough to their defined contribution (DC) pension plans or group, and
  • Those who do not have access to an employer-sponsored plan and have below average personal savings.

The McKinsey study suggests that since the retirement savings challenge is quite narrow, the best way to address it should be an approach targeted to these groups that is balanced and maintains the fairness of the system for all Canadian households.

And now, Malcolm Hamilton, a Senior Fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and a former Partner with Mercer has weighed in on the issue with his commentary Do Canadians Save Too Little?

Hamilton agrees with the McKinsey research that Canadians are reasonably well-prepared for retirement. Most save more than the five percent household savings rate. Most can retire comfortably on less than the traditional 70% retirement target. Furthermore, the size of the group that appears to be “at risk” cannot be accurately determined nor can the attributes of its members be usefully described.

He notes that a couple can live comfortably after retirement despite a reduction in income of more than 30% for several reasons:

  • They no longer need to save for retirement.
  • They no longer contribute to CPP and EI.
  • One of their largest pre-retirement expenses – supporting children – ends.
  • During their working lives the couple acquires non-financial assets like the family home, cars, furniture, art and jewelry. Some can be turned into a stream of income. Some cannot. But they do not need to budget to re-acquire these items during retirement.
  • Finally, any tolerable reduction in post-retirement income is amplified by a disproportionate reduction in income tax due to the progressive nature of our tax system and special tax breaks reserved for seniors.

As studies of our retirement system become more sophisticated, Hamilton thinks we should focus more on solutions for individuals who are not saving enough as opposed to a blanket approach that will impact everyone

So how can we fill the “gaps” identified by these studies?

Hamilton is not a big fan of an enhanced Canada or Quebec Pension plan. He agrees that CPP/QPP are effective ways to increase the post-retirement incomes, and to reduce the pre-retirement incomes, of all working Canadians.

However, he says they are ineffective ways to increase the post-retirement incomes of hard-to-identify minorities who are thought to be saving too little. “Their strength is their reach – they can efficiently move everyone to a common goal,” Hamilton says. “But what if there is no common goal? What if there are only individual goals dictated by personal circumstances and priorities?”

The report concludes that because gross replacement targets are unreliable measures of retirement income adequacy due to the diversity of our population, programs like the CPP/QPP can go only so far in addressing our retirement needs. They can establish a lowest common denominator – a replacement target that all Canadians should strive to equal or exceed.

“Beyond that, we need better-targeted programs – programs that are better able to recognize and address our individual needs,” Hamilton says.

Aug 24: Best from the blogosphere

24 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

After several weeks of “theme” issues of Best from the Blogosphere, for the next several weeks we will get back to basics and check out what our perennial favourites have been writing about lately.

On Boomer & Echo, Marie Engen discusses 3 financial mistakes to avoid. They are buying too much home; raiding your RRSP; and, putting your child’s needs ahead of your retirement.

Retire Happy’s Sarah Milton describes Using the Lifelong Learning Plan. The LLP is a program that allows Canadian residents to borrow up to $20,000 from their RRSPs in order to cover the costs of a full-time further education program for themselves, their common-law partner or spouse. If the Harper government is re-elected, they have promised to raise this amount to $35,000.

The Frugal Trader gives a Financial Freedom Update on Million Dollar Journey. He says in the year since he has reached the million dollar net worth milestone it feels great but nothing has really changed. His family has recently decided to become a single income family and with tight fiscal management they are able to live on one government salary. 

Blonde on a Budget Cait Flanders moved from Vancouver to Victoria recently and she has established a final de-cluttering challenge for herself. Last year she purged 43% of her belongings in one month to embrace a minimalist lifestyle. She has given herself 20 days to see how much more stuff she can get rid of when she unpacks her moving boxes.

Finally, Michael James on money says Your Retirement Spending Plan is Critical. While working, if you don’t like the plan your financial advisor has set up for you, you can find a new advisor and make up for past mistakes. But if your advisor puts you on a bad retirement spending plan, by the time you figure out there is a problem, there’s little you can do. other than cut spending.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Saskatchewan ombudsman fights for your rights

20 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

Click here to listen

Click here to listen

Today I’m interviewing Saskatchewan Ombudsman and Public Disclosure Commissioner Mary McFadyen for savewithpsp.com. She assumed these positions on April 4th, 2014.

Prior to returning to her home province of Saskatchewan to serve in this capacity, Ms. McFadyen was Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada and before that, Director General Legal Services for the office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defense and Canadian Forces.

She has a Law Degree from the University of Saskatchewan and an LLM. from the University of London, the London School of Economics.

Today we’re going to talk about her role as Ombudsman, when her office can and can’t help you, and some examples of cases and investigations conducted by her office, including a recent report about the care provided to Mary Warholm.

Thank you for joining me today, Mary. 

Thank you very much for having me.

Q: Now what exactly is an Ombudsman?
A: Well, an Ombudsman is an independent, impartial public official who has the authority and the responsibility to receive and investigate or formally address complaints about government actions, omissions and decisions. When appropriate they can also make findings, recommendations and publish reports.

Q: So tell me a little bit about the mandate of Ombudsman Saskatchewan and the problems your office can help provincial residents resolve.
A: Well, the mandate of Ombudsman Saskatchewan is to take complaints about government actions, decisions or omissions that affect people personally. Most of the government institutions like the Ministries, the Crown corporations, the agencies and the boards fall under our jurisdiction.

We have very wide powers of investigation and we have the ability to talk to anybody to get any documents to determine whether or not the decision was fair or if we can recommend or suggest that it be changed because it was not fair.

Q: You’re primarily provincial. What complaints and government concerns can you not deal with?
A: We can’t deal with anything that’s in the federal jurisdiction or private interest between citizens of a private nature. That’s for the courts. There are very few provincial organizations that do not fall under our jurisdiction but there are some. Rural and urban municipalities are examples of areas that do not fall under our jurisdiction.

Q: If a Saskatchewan resident wants to file a complaint with your office, what is the process they have to follow and is there anything they should do first?
A: Usually an Ombudsman office is one of last resort, which means that people should try to work out the problem that they have with the institution that they have issues with. For example, most organizations have some kind of customer service or complaint resolution office already in their office and those offices are there to hopefully resolve people’s problems to their satisfaction so they don’t need to call us. Those situations should work themselves out. Otherwise we can help.

Q: So do all complaints get investigated and resolved?
A: Out of the complaints that we get (about 2,500 a year) we estimate that about 80% we deal with at the first instance, within a couple weeks. Sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding between what someone heard and what they think someone said to them. About 20% of complaints would actually go on to be investigated in our office.

Q: And how long would they take?
A: Well, our objective is to get 90% of our files closed within 90 days and we’re pretty good at meeting that. We try to do the big investigations within six months like we did with the recently Margaret Warholm case. Sometimes, depending on a lot of circumstances it can take longer. But we do try to be timely.

Q: So you’ve got offices in Regina and Saskatoon, but I notice you took a road trip to Kindersley and Meadow Lake at the beginning of the year. Was there a particular reason you traveled to these towns or do you regularly set up appointments throughout the province to meet complainants?
A: Well, one of the goals when I was appointed is I wanted to have a look at where complaints come from throughout the province because not everybody lives in Regina and Saskatoon. That was the reason for our road trips to Meadow Lake and to Kindersley.

Q: Interesting. In April of this year, you filed your first annual report. Can you give me examples of a few cases of unfairness that your office investigated and resolved?
A: This year there was a case that very much attracted the public’s interest. It was a senior citizen who had a direct debit to pay her SaskEnergy account.

Every month the bill came and it was paid directly from her checking account. And this went on for ten years. She didn’t really pay much attention to it but she just knew that it got paid. And then after ten years she got a letter from SaskEnergy saying that she now owed $13,000 immediately.

Q: Wow…
A: So that was a lot and as a result she contacted us. What had happened was the pre-authorized payments had been coming out of somebody else’s account for over ten years.

The other person died and when his estate was settled the executor found this mistake and contacted SaskEnergy realizing that this money had been paid someone else’s bills. So we looked at it and we agreed that it was obvious that this person did owe the money and that SaskEnergy did have the right to collect it.

But we tried to resolve the problem in the best way possible for her. It ended up that SaskEnergy agreed to a smaller lump sum because they understood that they had some responsibility as well because it had been going on for ten years. So the complainant who came to our office paid the lump sum and was very happy to have the issue resolved.

Q: Interesting. Now in mid May of this year, your report “Taking Care, An Ombudsman Investigation Into the Care Provided to Margaret Warholm While a Resident at the Santa Maria Senior Citizen’s Home” was tabled in the legislature and the report included 19 recommendations. What triggered this investigation? What was the issue here?
A: Well, what triggered this investigation is that back in November of 2014 Mrs. Warholm’s family actually went public with concerns about their mother’s care while she was a resident at Santa Maria. They had tried to get information after she died about her care and they found that the answers they received from Santa Maria were not satisfactory and they went to the legislature to express their concerns. The Minister of Health referred the matter to our office for investigation.

In Saskatchewan we have standards of care in the regulations that all long-term care homes must follow when they’re providing care. So we looked at the care Margaret care received when she was at the home and including her bed format, her pain management, nutrition and hydration.

We made ten recommendations directly to Santa Maria that they had to implement. One covered the care of bed sores, because her bed sores were very, very severe.

When we announced we were doing this investigation we got about 89 calls from all over the province, which led us to believe these were not issues for just one long-term care facility within just one health region.  People weren’t sure where to complain and if they did complain they were afraid that there may be reprisal against their loved ones and they wouldn’t be properly cared for.

When we looked at how the whole long term care system works in Saskatchewan we found about 100 care standards that the Ministry of Health has enacted that all long-term care facilities are to follow. Throughout this whole system there was actually nobody monitoring or making sure that the standards of care were actually being met.

Q: That’s frightening because we’re all going to be there eventually.
A: It is. That is a very good point because we did make recommendations that the Ministry of Health and the health regions have to make sure that people actually understand what it means and that the homes are actually putting processes in place to make sure that they are meeting the standards of care for each resident.

Because we had a really tight time frame for doing this investigation, there were lots of things that were mentioned to us that we just did not have an opportunity to look at, nor necessarily was my role to do so as an Ombudsman.

The last recommendation that we made was that they really have to determine what the future needs of long term care patients in Saskatchewan are and come up with a plan to address it because, you’re right, we’re all getting older and because this problem is not going to go away, it needs to be tackled.

Q: So how do you enforce your recommendations?
A: Well, as an Ombudsman we only make recommendations. But in this case, we notified the organizations, the Ministry, the health regions, and Santa Maria that we will follow up within six months to see how they’re progressing with the recommendations.

One of the benefits of being an Ombudsman is we do have the power to go public with what we recommend. Lots of times just shining attention on an issue is enough to get the government moving on something.

Q: That sounds like you’ve made a tremendous contribution to the province and if you can keep the heat on….
A: Yes, I think it was. We tried to write our report so that it was very reader-friendly.  Our goal was  to set out some very basic information about how long-term care works in the province to facilitate a good discussion about going forward and how we’re going to tackle this issue.

Q: Well, that’s really interesting. Thank you very much, Mary for talking to me today.
A: You’re welcome.

Aug 17: Best from the blogosphere

17 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

You’ve been diligently socking away money in a Registered Educational Savings Plan (RESP) since your child was a toddler and in a few short weeks she starts university. Getting at the money can be a little more complicated than simply taking out money from your savings account. To help you through the process, this week we feature articles and blogs exploring all things relating to RESP withdrawals.

Mike Holman on Money Smarts discusses RESP withdrawal Rules and Strategies for 2015. He says there is one withdrawal rule to get out of the way – you are only allowed to take out $5,000 of accumulated income in the first 13 weeks. After 13 weeks, you can withdraw as much accumulated income (including educational assistance payments) as you wish.  However, there are no limits to withdrawals from the contribution portion as long as your child is attending school.

Bankrate.com blogger Jasmine Miller also writes about How to cash out your RESP. Because the government stipulates that financial institutions must follow “due diligence” to ensure RESP funds are being used for a child’s education your bank may want to see a copy of your child’s acceptance letter before releasing funds or they may take you at your word. Therefore she says it’s a good idea to keep all documentation and receipts.

The Investing for Me blog Withdrawals from RESPs notes that RESP withdrawals can generally be made to cover tuition, room and board, school supplies, computers and transportation as these are all eligible educational expenses under the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) criteria. However, guidelines for withdrawals from a Group RESP account are governed by the plan’s contract or prospectus and group plans may have more restrictions than family or individual plans.

But what if your child doesn’t continue her education? Get Smarter About Money explains that if your child doesn’t continue her education after high school, there may be financial costs and tax consequences. But you have these four available options:

  1. Keep the RESP open – your child may decide to continue her studies later,
  2. Transfer the money to another beneficiary,
  3. Transfer the money to your RRSP,
  4. Close the RESP.

In Need to use an RESP this fall? Back to school starts now, Rob Carrick covers some of the same territory as the blogs noted above. However, he says one more consideration in filling out the RESP withdrawal form is where you want the money to go. You can have it sent to your chequing account, or your child’s account. He has the money from his son’s RESP paid into his and his wife’s joint account, and then he pays tuition and residence bills via Interac online.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

How to furnish a student apartment on the cheap

13 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

Your child is heading off to college or university out-of-town. While many students live in residence for a year or two, after that they may prefer to rent an apartment or share a house with others. So in addition to budgeting for rent and utilities, your child may have to buy everything from furniture and dishes to pots and window coverings.

As the parent of two children (now adults) who moved out during their university years I can tell you from experience that less is always more. We bought far too many pieces that were either too breakable or too heavy when my daughter got her first apartment and in subsequent years she abandoned items that were too impractical to move to the next place.

Based on our experience, here are some suggestions on how to furnish a functional student apartment on the cheap.

  1. Bed: The bed is the one item you should probably buy new and spend the most on. Because of bed bugs and other hygiene issues Goodwill and other charitable groups won’t even take used mattresses. Futons, hide-a-bead sofas and fold out foam couches are possible options for studio apartments.
  2. Garage sales: Generally it is preferable to buy most of what you need in the city where your offspring will be studying, but garage sales can be goldmines for small appliances, dishes and cutlery. Stay away from less essential, once trendy items like fondue pots and electric yoghurt makers.
  3. Desk: Anything from a kitchen table to an old door on four legs can be used as a desk. Some students are most productive on their laptops lying in bed or on the floor surrounded by piles of research. However, a student who is going to be spending long hours on a computer may avoid repetitive strain injury with an inexpensive ergonomic work station and chair which are usually available at a reasonable cost from stationery and department stores.
  4. Former tenants: Former students who are moving on may be happy to sell dressers, tables and chairs and other essentials for a small amount just to get rid of them. This may not work out in cases where former tenants graduate in May and new students only take over the apartment later in the summer.
  5. Online purchases: There always pages and pages of listings for used furniture on Craig’s List and Kijiji. Make sure you measure the space you have before you buy items like sectional sofa or upholstered arm chair that won’t fit in the elevator or through the door of the apartment.
  6. Storage: When my son moved into a room at a co-op house at University of Toronto, the first thing we notice is the lack of storage space. So we headed out to Canadian Tire for a self-assembled wardrobe for his clothes shoes and other paraphernalia.
  7. Window coverings: Window coverings are important for privacy, particularly if the window is close to the street or on a lower floor. They also keep in the warmth in winter and block early morning light. Inexpensive roll blinds can be cut to size and purchased at most hardware and home décor stores.
  8. IKEA: You can buy anything from kitchen supplies to furniture to lighting solutions at IKEA. Unfortunately IKEA does not have a store in Saskatchewan but items can be ordered online from their catalogue and delivered. Keep in mind that this self-assembled furniture is often not durable and typically will not survive multiple moves, Also, if pieces are missing or broken (which can happen), it is a lot more difficult if you can’t just run over to the store to get what you need.
  9. Locks: One of the apartments my daughter rented in Montreal was broken into. The most valuable thing she had stolen was her CD collection and fortunately our home insurance covered the cost of replacing it. These days students have computers, tablets and other assorted expensive electronics. If the landlord will allow it, you may want to replace the existing lock with a Medeco Deadbolt or other similar high security lock.

And circling back to the theme of “less is more,” remember that after graduation, the whole apartment of furniture and other stuff could end up in your garage or basement for an indefinite period. But the upside is you can always “pay it forward.”  The summer before my son headed out to grad school in Vancouver, I sold a whole garage full of his stuff to my personal trainer for her college age daughter who was furnishing her first apartment!

More health benefit plan members want flexibility

6 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

The 2015 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey reveals that virtually all health plan members are positive about their current health plans but almost two-thirds of employees responding to the survey would like the opportunity to spend their benefit dollars on programs that are more tailored to the needs of their family. 

Ninety-four percent of plan members are positive when describing the overall quality of their health benefits, with 58% describing them as very good or excellent. This result has been consistent since the Sanofi survey first posed the question in 2006. 

Similarly, 93% of respondents believe their health benefit plan meets their needs and 56% of this group judge that it does so extremely or very well. Health benefits also continue to be an effective means to attract and retain employees, as 77% of respondents say they would not move to a job that did not include health benefits (rising to 80% in Manitoba/Saskatchewan and decreasing to 66% in Quebec). 

When asked which statement most closely describes their plan, 77% of plan members selected “a traditional plan that defines what is covered and the levels of coverage” and 23% selected “a ‘flex’ plan that allows them to choose levels of coverage.” When then asked which type of plan they prefer, 64% of members opted for the less-prevalent flex plan and 36% opted for the traditional plan. 

A separate survey of plan sponsors indicates that 32% offer flex plans. Larger employers (more than 500 employees) are more likely to do so at 50%, followed by mid-size (34%, 101–500 employees) and smaller employers (18%, up to 100 employees). 

Plan members, meanwhile, are consistent no matter the size of their organization. Approximately two-thirds said they prefer a flex plan over a traditional plan. 

“Plan members see great value in having a health benefit plan, but they also want to have a voice in decisions around what is covered. That’s a huge challenge for plan sponsors, but perhaps this is an opportunity and the time is right to make change,” says Susan Belmore-Vermes, director group benefits solutions, at Health Association Nova Scotia. “The question is, how do we as an industry create a strategy to redesign plans that are decades old for many of us?” 

Plan members’ high satisfaction levels can also contribute toward a sense of complacency in benefits management, warn members of the advisory board. As a result, change is generally a response to “burning platforms” rather than evolving needs. 

“Plan members are telling us there’s a desire for flexibility and personalization, and the timing is right because we’re seeing greater differences between the generations and we have this great ‘bulge’ of baby boomers in the workforce right now. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of traditional plans doesn’t really suit this reality,” says Marilee Mark, vice-president, market development, at Sun Life Financial. 

As well, plan members’ changing needs do not necessarily point to added costs for the employer. “For example, there’s a growing interest in getting access to resources and education,” says Mark. 

Board members also point to a potential sleeping giant: chronic disease. “Chronic disease in the workplace is very prevalent and employers are not paying attention to it. We can’t wait for it to become a burning platform,” notes Carol Craig, director of human resources, benefits and pensions at TELUS. 

When plan members were presented with seven possible new benefit offerings, they said they would most likely use onsite screening with a healthcare professional to determine personal risks for chronic diseases (45%) followed by on-site immunization for infectious diseases (40%) and coverage for fitness/yoga classes (34%). 

Plan members also reported using paramedical services (i.e. massage therapy, physiotherapy, chiropractic services) an average of 7.3 times in the last year, the second highest rate of utilization after prescription medicine (9.5 times).

Aug 4: Best from the blogosphere

4 Aug

By Sheryl Smolkin

Every week in this space we offer examples of some of the blogs and personal finance articles we believe represent the Best from the Blogosphere. That’s why we were interested in a list recently published by LSM Insurance of the Top 50 Canadian Personal Finance Websites using various online metrics described in the accompanying article.

Here are several blogs (as opposed to mainstream media outlets) that made the list, and the “most shared content” that helped them get there.

Tom Drake at the Canadian Finance Blog was #10 on the list. How to Calculate Your Credit Score For Free has been a perennial favourite. Drake says that it’s actually fairly easy to see where you stand when it comes to your credit score. All you need to do is visit this credit score estimator and fill in the fields. Once you have done so, the calculator will tell you what range your score falls into.

Young and Thrifty was ranked #13. Sean Cooper helped to put this blog over the top with his guest post How to Achieve Findependence at Age 31. His three step approach is to achieve mortgage freedom by renting the top floor of his house and living in the basement apartment; have multiple income streams – by day he is a pension analyst, and by night he is a financial journalist and landlord; and, frugal living. You can see his own blog here.

The 24th spot went to Mo Money Mo Houses where How Can She Afford That? She Can’t, That’s How generated considerable interest. Jessica Moorhouse says people may appear to be more affluent than you are because they have big houses or fancy cars, but if they are in debt up to their eyeballs, it’s all an illusion. In order to maintain a lifestyle in the black, her parents had to live frugally. They only bought what they needed and lived fairly simply. To this day, that’s how she still lives her life and that’s why she is also not in debt.

At #30, Nelson Smith on Sustainable Personal Finance got the blogosphere buzzing when he wrote about Living in a Shipping Container – really! After their life is over making trips across the ocean, shipping containers are often auctioned off to the highest bidder. Sometimes these high bidders are businesses looking for cheap storage options. Or, if you want to get really crazy, you can build a house with them. Before you poo-poo the idea, Smith says that you can check out some pictures of houses built from storage containers in his blog post.

And rounding out the list at #50, Nancy at Money on Trees questions whether Netflix is really all you need. As a first time home buyer with little discretionary income, she says she simply cannot afford to spend $80 a month on satellite or cable. What she really misses are sports but even these are becoming more accessible as major events like the 2014 Sochi Olympics and CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada are streamed online. We have also been watching many Pan Am events online this summer and displaying then on our “smart” television which has a bigger screen.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

BOOK REVIEW: Wealthing Like Rabbits

30 Jul

By Sheryl Smolkin

I don’t often review personal finance books because it seems to take an inordinate amount of time to wade through yet another statement of the obvious just to glean enough cogent information to give readers a taste of what the book is all about.

But when I read accolades from the likes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Preet Bannerjee, Roma Luciw, Dan Bortolotti plus a whole bunch of my other favourite personal finance bloggers in the introductory pages of the book, I thought I’d better keep on going to find out what all of the fuss is about.

Author Robert R. Brown says Wealthing Like Rabbits is written to be a fun and unique introduction to personal finance and suggests that any book that includes sex, zombies and a reference to Captain Picard is “an absolute must read,” regardless of genre.

Brown starts out by asking how many rabbits there would be after 60 years if 24 rabbits were released on a farm on a great big island. Before providing an answer to this question, he introduces the need to save for retirement, although he doesn’t begin to predict how much you or I will need. His only conclusion is that “more is better” because it is better to be 65 years old with $750,000 saved than 65 years old with $75,000 saved.

Then he reveals that there would be 10 billion rabbits after 60 years and launches into a discussion of the history and key features of registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) and tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs). Subsequently he riffs about how many zombies there would be in England if France sent 100/week for 40 years.

If you are still with me, you may wonder — what is the point of all this?

Not surprisingly of course, it’s to illustrate the power of compounding, whether in relation to rabbits, or money or zombies. We learn that just $100/wk deposited in an RRSP earning 6% for 40 years will add up to a nest egg of $624,627.

But the positive and the negative impact of compounding interest are also very cleverly brought home in later chapters. I particularly liked the comparison of brothers Mario and Luigi who both had similar incomes and $100,000 for a down payment on a house. They went to the bank to find how big a mortgage they were eligible for.

Mario’s banker told him “he could afford” to buy a house for $525,000. Luigi told the mortgage specialist he needed $10,000 for closing costs and the $90,000 balance had to cover at least 20% of the purchase price of the house so the most he would be willing to spend is $450,000.

The story continues with Mario buying a 3,000 square foot home for $525,000. Luigi sticks to his budget and buys a 1,600 square home nearby for $350,000. Over 20 years, compound interest on the mortgage means that Mario ends up paying $807,538 for his house while Luigi only has to fork out $538,359.

Similarly, when it comes to debt, Brown illustrates that high interest credit card debt can quickly escalate if balances are not paid off every month. Even I did not realize until recently that if you miss your payment due date by even as little as one day, the interest-free grace period completely disappears. In fact you have to pay interest on the amount of each transaction from the date each and every purchase was made.

Brown also reviews the characteristics of a line of credit; a home owner’s line of credit; bank loans and consolidation loans. While generally he believes all of these can cause severe damage to your financial health, he recognizes that when handled properly, they each have their place.

But he draws a line in the sand when it comes to payday loans. Never, ever get a payday loan, Brown says.

He gives the example of Buddy who borrows $400 from a payday loan place because his furnace broke down. He is charged $21 for every $100 he borrows for just two weeks. Two weeks later he pays the payday lender $484. That’s 21% for only 14 days, which works out to 546% annually. And that’s only the beginning.

If Buddy can’t pay in two weeks the payday loan company will charge him an NSF penalty and continue to accumulate stratospheric interest rates on the whole amount. Further defaults mean he will likely be hounded both by telephone at home and at work day and night. The file may be handed over to an even more aggressive collection agency.

In the second last chapter, Brown offers a brain dump of financial tips (which he doesn’t call “Fifty Shades of Brown”):

    • Spousal RRSPs are cool.
    • MoneySense magazine is a great source of personal finance information.
    • Eat dinner at home. Then go out for a fancy coffee and desert to Starbucks.
    • Buy life insurance, not mortgage insurance from your bank.
    • Read Preet Banerjee’s book Stop Overthinking Your Money for the skinny on life insurance.
    • Use the noun“wealth” as a verb. So instead of saving $150/week in your RRSP you will be wealthing your money.

And finally, Brown’s parting words at the end of the book are “you’ve got to show up.” Put some money away for your future. Live in a house that makes sense. Be smart about how you spend your money. Spend less than you earn. Be comfortable living within your means. He says it really is that simple.

Wealthing Like Rabbits is funny and engaging and it hits all the personal finance bases. Regardless of whether you are a Millennial, a Gen Xer or a Boomer, you will find lots of tips on how to save more, spend less and still have a lot of fun along the way. 

The book can be purchased in hardcover for $16.95 and the epub and kindle versions are available for $7.99.

Jul 27: Best from the blogosphere

27 Jul

By Sheryl Smolkin

Barbecuing is the obvious alternative when you don’t want to cook inside and heat up the house on a hot and muggy summer day. But feeding a crowd can get expensive if you entertain frequently or if there always seems to be a gang of hungry teenagers foraging for food in your fridge. This week we feature blog posts that have useful tips for cheap and cheerful summer barbecues.

First and foremost you need a grill. Barbecue Bible’s Steven Raichlen offers 8 questions to ask yourself before buying a grill or smoker. How much can you afford? Charcoal, gas, wood-burning or other? How many people will you be cooking for? What foods do you enjoy grilling or smoking? Is portability important? These questions and others will influence your purchasing decision.

Real Simple has 10 Money-Saving Ideas for a Summer Barbecue. Some examples are:

  • Skip the porterhouse steak in favour of a great flank steak.
  • It’s super easy to make do-it-yourself rubs and sauces.
  • Maintain your grill properly so it will last as long as possible.

In 7 Tips for Hosting a Low-Budget BBQ Readers Digest says don’t stress about impressing your guests with an elaborate menu. Instead of trying difficult recipes, serve simple dishes that you know they will like. Plus, if the kids at your barbecue are picky eaters, your uncomplicated menu is bound to please them.

Tiphero says the way to have a cheap and successful barbecue is to make the most of the meat you purchase by serving skewers. It breaks up the meat with some veggies to make for a nice, filling snack on a stick. Skewers are a great presentation and work wonderfully for portion control.

And finally, Stockpilingmoms gives 7 tips to a fun and cheap BBQ. What about a hot dog or bratwurst bar? Grab hot dogs, bratwurst or sausages for less than a steak, chicken or burger would cost.  Pick out regular, wheat, onion and poppy seed buns.  Offer different fresh or grilled veggies, relish, chili, and all your favorite condiments for a fun spin on a typical barbecue.  Let everyone build their own dog mixing and matching classic flavors to create a new favorite.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

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