Saturday, 15 July 2017

Weekly Column; You're (not) Richer Than You Think

You’re (not) richer than you think

 At the height of the oil boom, it seemed like the money would never run out. Companies were competing for capable, experienced workers with higher wages, better benefits, truck and living allowances, and a variety of performance bonuses. 

This money flooded the community in a housing boom that created demand for tradespeople, building materials, and accommodations for employees.

As we saw locally, this created a bustling economy characterized by new businesses, new neighbourhoods and a flood of people moving to the area to share in the wealth. Back then, rather than wondering how to save and invest, the question on our minds was what to spend on next.

Much of the spending that was commonplace a few years ago seems extravagant by today’s standards—or by any standards—illustrated by all the sleds, quads, bikes, boats, and campers that were financed for occasional weekend use, never mind the after-market accessories on the jacked up, chipped, loud trucks. And once you’ve pimped out your vehicle, your own appearance and that of your family must keep up with brand name clothing and toys of their own.

It was a full-time job, just spending that money and keeping up with the trends and purchases of those in your social circle. The shame of it all is how much of that money was spent on things that depreciate or have no lasting value at all, beyond the immediate gratification of having them.

The bank is not your mom

When most of us go to the bank for a loan, we have the feeling that they won’t give us the money if we can’t afford it. But that logic forgets that banks profit from the loan interest no matter what misery we go through to pay it. Unfortunately, looking out for our own financial security is our job, not the bank’s.

Banks and credit card companies hand out credit limits and lines of credit like they are candy at a parade. Being offered it doesn’t mean you should accept it, though, and having it doesn’t mean you should use it.

Consider this: in 1977, Canadians made 118 million purchases on 8.2 million Visa or MasterCards. As of 2015, there were 68 million such cards in Canada, making 3.9 billion purchases. 

Obviously, our spending habits have changed, there are more of us, and the culture is different. But an astonishing 44% of Canadians can’t afford to pay off their credit card purchases in full every month and carry an average balance of $3954.00 (The Walrus, May 17, 2017). In less than 40 years, Canadians have gone from using credit cards for possible emergency use to overspending on them daily.

Additionally, the banks and credit card companies entice us with Airmiles and rewards programs that convince us we are “earning” as we spend. But when you spend to the point of being unable to repay, you have earned yourself a deep hole that is difficult to get out of. No amount of free travel or groceries will help you with the interest payments when you can’t cover your bills.

Have more than you show, say less than you know

For many, the oil boom gave an opportunity to enter the housing market, travel, and accumulate property. The explosive nature of such a thriving economy had a downside, though, which has become clear with some time and distance.

The seemingly never-ending jobs and confidence in the patch lulled us into a false sense of security, and encouraged us to spend like there was no tomorrow. It became easier and easier to be talked into the higher priced sale, no matter what you initially intended to buy, until things crashed and many people found themselves living a super-sized life on a happy meal income.

The past few years have taught us some hard lessons. No matter the overtime, job perks, bonuses or allowances that your work provides you, it’s paramount that your lifestyle be afforded on your actual wage alone. Should those extras disappear, as we saw over the last few years, there’s no way to cover the payments and extravagances that add up over and above that basic wage. Lines of credit come due. Banks and credit card companies want their money and they will come to get it.

We’ve all heard the stories of people that had $10,000/month payments when they were laid off from their oil patch jobs. It’s hard to imagine the gut-wrenching experience those people went through. It’s also hard to imagine that banks continued to lend money and allowed those situations to arise.

You are not richer than you think, even if the bank tells you so. Living within your means and planning for the unforeseen is the discerning choice that comes with age and experience.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Weekly Column: Nurturing Competent Adults

Nurturing competent young adults

It must be difficult to be a young adult these days. Those of us that didn’t grow up with the Internet and social media remember a time where our parents didn’t always know where we were and couldn’t fix everything for us with a simple phone call.  

Are young people still learning to solve problems on their own, given their access to google to think for them and the bank of mom and dad to make their worries go away? You have to wonder, especially knowing that there are now courses in “adulting,” where young people can study online to learn grown up skills. The fact that a generation of people may not know how to follow a recipe, change a tire or write out a cheque is baffling if not scary.

Of course, these are sweeping generalizations. Look hard enough and you will find many young people with great problem solving skills and an independent outlook. But one has to wonder if the general population of millennials—children born between 1980 and 2000—is truly prepared to step into adulthood.

The season of recognition

The next batch of high school graduates is about to complete one phase of their lives, the time where they lived at home and had the daily guidance of parents and teachers to steer them. Looking back, one might ask whether any of us was really prepared for the real world at that age. But it’s also hard to resist comparing kids that have never done their own laundry with the great generation that marched off to war at the same age.

With these two extreme examples comes a spectrum of opinions on what childhood, adolescence and adulthood should be like. Many would argue that kids should be kids and not have to face worries about money, survival or adversity. Many others would argue that shielding youth from these challenges not only leaves them ill-prepared for real life, but also gives them an unrealistic expectation of what their future will hold.

If mom and dad have paid the cell phone bill and bought the brand-name clothes and taught you that you deserve the best that life has to offer, how will you transition to a minimum wage job, and rent, and a boss that might not recognize the special wonderfulness you have always been told you possess?

Cramming for life’s tests

If you are a parent, you might ask yourself how your kids are usually allowed to deal with a problem. Depending on their ages, there is usually a way that you can allow them to safely figure out what to do on their own. 

Whether it’s allowing them to spend their allowance frivolously and then having them sit out the next shopping trip, or transitioning a few bills into their names while they still live at home, and ensuring that those bills are paid on time, there are many ways to ease kids into a more independent role while still being available to advise them.

If your child is now finishing up high school and will be leaving home in the next few months, whether entering the work force or off to post-secondary in the fall, it might not hurt to evaluate some of their skills while they are still home under your care. Take an hour and change a tire together. Check the oil in their vehicle and make sure they can top up the fluids on their own, put air in the tires and boost a dead battery. 

Give him or her an evening a week where they cook for the family. Send them for the groceries with a set amount of money and a list. Stop doing their laundry and making their lunches, if you haven’t already. Show your affection in praising how they are handling these new responsibilities, rather than by doing it all for them.

Children learn responsibility by having rules and expectations. As parents, you have tried to nurture their self-esteem and confidence, but have you given them opportunities to grow capable and self-sufficient? Can they handle everyday problems and challenges, or should you spend this summer preparing them for adulthood?

A new world of independence is opening up to this season’s graduates. They’ve anticipated this moment for years, as have their parents. With the great adventures and new beginnings come new responsibilities. Websites like moneymentors.ca and practicalmoneyskills.ca are a helpful jumping off point if you’d like to make sure your kids are ready to handle their own money.

Creating competent young people is a combination of nurturing their emotional growth as well as their practical knowledge. Kids today have technology to help them, but are at risk of having it stunt their common sense. Giving them more responsibilities will help grow their independence.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Weekly Column: Are Bank Fees Bleeding You Dry?

Fees and service charges: is your bank bleeding you dry?

Not everyone that reads this is going to bother to find a bank statement or log in to their account to double check what they are paying in bank fees. Unfortunately, many people look at service charges and fees as a fact of life, an annoyance, and refuse to make an effort to eliminate these phantom expenses that slowly drain away your accounts.

The fact is, you should be able to bank for free. In many cases, minor effort on your part would ensure that you could. And even if you can’t bank for free, perhaps you can find ways to save on banking that will boost your bottom line and make a difference over time.

Examine different plans and options

What fees does your bank charge you? Has your life changed significantly since you selected the plan that you use? For instance, if you pay a high monthly fee so that you can use any bank’s ATM, are you actually using different ATMs often enough to make that a cost-effective option? Or could you reduce that plan and only use your own bank’s ATM for free? If this strategy could take you from $20/month down to $4/month, that is a savings of $192/year.

Likewise, if you are regularly into your overdraft, accept the fact and find an option that costs less. Some accounts charge a monthly fee for overdraft protection whether you use it or not. Others charge you on a per use basis, while still others do not charge extra if your account rises above zero at least once every month. If you find yourself needing an overdraft, finding a sensible option might save you enough money over time that you no longer find yourself “in the red” every month.

Minimum balance, minimum fees

Are you aware that keeping a minimum balance in your account often eliminates the fees that your bank charges? Do you know what that magical number is? If you find it hard to maintain a minimum balance and notice that you are often being charged the fees, find an account with a lower minimum balance. Or if you like the prospect of never being charged a fee, maybe an online bank is right for you.

Although many of us like the thought of having a bricks and mortar bank to visit and a real teller to serve our needs, online banks are gaining popularity with lower fees and more flexible options.

Online banks: the way of the future?

It’s comforting to know where your money is. But even if you deal with one of the major banks or a huge credit union, you are still only a number to them. The difference between an online bank and a traditional one is, increasingly, the fees that you are charged and the manner in which customer service is provided. Have you tried to phone a major bank lately? It’s not unlikely that, for people that do email, it’s actually easier and faster to reach someone via online chat or email message than waiting in queue on the phone or never being called back by the associate you’ve been trying to reach.

In every Internet search conducted for the writing of this column, two online banking options jumped to the fore. I’m not associated with either, and people should take the time to do their own research and determine what’s right for them. But both President’s Choice Financial and Tangerine have interesting options available for those willing to try a new approach to banking.

These online banks offer accounts that charge zero fees, with no minimum balance required, and are associated with established big banks so that you can access ATMs in your community.

With the President’s Choice option, you also receive PC points when you use your account. These points can then be used to buy groceries. When you consider that your regular bank does the opposite—charging you a monthly fee and possibly extra for each transaction—this should make discerning savers take notice. You can also use PC or CIBC ATMs without charge to access your money.

Similarly, the online bank Tangerine is owned by Scotiabank and used to be known as ING Direct Canada. It offers no fee chequing and savings accounts as well as a number of other options.
The point is not to sell you on a particular type of bank account, but rather to encourage you to look at your statements and see what you are being charged by banks that do little to accommodate your situation. There are other plans and options out there. Prioritize saving on fees and keeping that cash in your own account, rather than the bank’s, no matter where you choose to keep your money.



Thursday, 1 June 2017

Weekly Column: Penny wise, pound foolish

Penny wise, pound foolish

Many of us feel that we’ve tightened our belts in recent years. We’re spending less than ever and, now that some jobs are returning, a sense of normalcy is back, too. So, with the return of an income and the reduction of spending, why is it so hard to make ends meet, much less get ahead?

You watch the grocery flyers and plan your weekly meals around the meat and produce that’s on special, right? You eat your leftovers and use a rewards card that accumulates points or cash back. 

You’ve stopped eating at the drive-thru and haven’t bought yourself anything in ages. You’ve even gotten ambitious and examined your bills and plans to reduce fees and extra charges. You’ve gone paperless to avoid paying for the paper bill that comes in the mail, while also bundling or downsizing services.

You’re doing all the smart, budget-savvy things, so why don’t you have more money to show for it? Why are you still spending ALL THE MONEY every month, when you feel like you’re working hard to save?

There’s a sad reality many budget-conscious folks are waking up to—saving those pennies, nickels and dimes gets you no further ahead if you don’t do something with the dollars you’ve saved.

In other words, if you don’t move those savings out of your general account, you will spend them on something else. And when people feel like they’re scrimping and saving with nothing to show for it, many will eventually stop trying.

Luckily, a few simple steps will help you turn things around and hopefully give you results in no time.

The first thing you must do is take the time to look at your bank and credit card statements. Are there places you could continue to trim your spending? How much are you saving with the reductions you’ve already made? Come up with a realistic figure that represents this unspent money.

Let’s say, for example, that you cut your $100/month satellite package down to $80. You are saving $20/month. If you’ve eliminated your landline for a savings of $60/month, you now have $80 to do something with, right?

Make it automatic

This advice is not new. David Bach wrote about this years ago in his book “The Automatic Millionaire”. But the strategy still applies: take the $80 you’re saving and have it automatically transferred out of your main bank account before you have the chance to spend it. Make sure that you have a low or zero fee option for automatically transferring money between accounts.  Keep an eye on your bank balances and make sure you aren’t running yourself into the overdraft by doing this—you mustn’t begin spending more loosely because you know there is extra money. The point is to put that $80/month to work.

You may think that socking away $80/month won’t have a huge impact on your financial situation but, the point is, it’s still $960 a year that might otherwise have trickled through your fingers.

What to do with it?

Sticking with our example, you are now consistently saving $80/month. What is your most pressing financial goal? Have you got credit cards that need paying off? Any loans? What is your highest interest rate? 

If you drive an older vehicle, perhaps you should start saving for a newer one, or for the inevitable maintenance and repairs on the one you have. If you haven’t started saving for retirement or your children’s education, you may want to begin now. Likewise, if you don’t have money set aside for emergencies—whether it’s a dishwasher that springs a leak or an unforeseen layoff—your $80/month is at least a start.

Start small, dream big

Stashing away $80/month might seem, to some, an ineffective amount of money. To others, it might seem a lofty, far off goal. No matter your situation, don’t be discouraged by how small you have to start out. Watching a bit of money grow is sure to inspire and motivate you to further curtail your spending and find other ways to save. And when you do, be sure to automatically transfer that money and put it to work for you.

If you were offered an extra hour of work, would you do it for the money? Why not get up an hour early one day and examine your statements and accounts to find out where you are leaking money? 

For most of us, it is simple things like snacks and meals for the kids and impulsive purchases when you aren’t thinking of your goals. Cut these entirely from your budget and transfer that money to another account where it is either invested, saved, or put against debt.


Accumulating month after month, these automatic transfers are your ticket to a better financial situation.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Weekly Column: Does Your Child Need an RESP?

Will your child need an RESP?

Look around the community and you’ll find plenty of self-made men and women who set out on their own at a young age, without much formal education, and worked hard to build a successful farm or business. With determination and perseverance, and by the sweat of their brow, these entrepreneurs strengthened the local economy and contributed to their communities at the same time. 

While that generation had very little handed to them, it’s hard to know if today’s young people will have the same shot at life without their grade 12 plus some manner of formal education.

No one can predict what their children will want to be when they grow up, but we can acknowledge that times have changed. As farmers learn to navigate world markets and business owners face competition on a global scale, it’s hard to imagine what the career of a child born today will look like.

Just another thing to save for

With payments coming out your ears and a long list of contingencies to save for, your child’s post-secondary education might seem a long way off and the least of your worries. While this may be true, ask any grandparent how quickly a child grows up and leaves the nest. Committing even a small amount, monthly, to an RESP will reap rewards for your child in the future.

A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is a means to save for your child’s education, whether it be an apprenticeship program, trade school, college or university. The plan is most beneficial because the Federal Government provides 20 cents for every dollar that you contribute (up to $500 annually). Anyone can contribute to a child’s plan. Also, there are extra options available for low income families.

Learn about RESPs

This is by no means the definitive explanation of how RESPs work. For more information, visit cra-arc.gc.ca and speak to professionals. Understanding RESPs is imperative to getting the most for your money.

Basically, your monthly contribution is supplemented by the government and invested. The money grows tax-free until your child is ready to use it at an approved institution. When the money is paid out, it’s taxed at the child’s rate, not yours. Assuming the child has little to no income, the money can be received at little cost. The RESP needn’t be used immediately upon graduation from high school can remain open for over 30 years.

Consider what’s right for your family. For instance, will you want the RESP to be transferable between siblings? Would you like to have a say in how the money gets invested or would you prefer to have a professional handle the details? These are questions to ask, whether you invest through a financial institution or credit union, a certified financial planner, or through a group plan dealer.

Know that there is a difference between group RESPs and individual or family ones. Each group, or pooled, plan works differently and has its own rules. There are often more fees associated with group plans and you must commit to buying a set number of plan units. Should you miss a regularly scheduled payment you may be subject to fees and penalties or your plan may go into default and be terminated. In such a case, you may lose some or all of your investment. Do your research and speak to a number of parents and professionals before committing to a group RESP.

Sacrifice for an investment

The list of things to save for can get downright disheartening. Retirement, emergencies, vehicle and home repairs…it seems there is no money left in a budget for fun and incidental spending. But if you find yourself sacrificing in the here and now to give your children the toys and gadgets they want, consider, instead, investing some of that money into an RESP so that they can earn a good living and buy their own gadgets in the future.

We could debate whether giving kids too much for free is a help or a harm to their character. Perhaps raising trust fund babies and providing them with brand new vehicles and designer clothes doesn’t prepare them for the real world at all.

On the other hand, having no future plans or resources is equally as debilitating. Discuss your children’s aspirations with them as they grow. Can they compete and succeed without further education? What are the projected costs of what they need?

Balancing your support with their own hard work and contributions will not only teach them responsibility but will get them started in life without the burden of significant student debt. RESP contributions, no matter how small, add up over time and are a sensible way to encourage a child to invest in their skills. The sooner you start, the better.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Weekly Column: And Baby Makes Three

And baby makes three

For most parents, preparing for your first child is a time of nervous wonder and excitement. All the “firsts,” from the first movements in the womb to your first delivery and baby’s first words and steps, make parenthood a fantastic and awe-inspiring experience.

Beyond all the emotional and hormonal changes happening in your life, you may also notice different pressures and judgements being assigned. Baby gear is a competitive industry and you will be marketed to non-stop as the pregnancy progresses.

From maternity clothes to stretchmark creams, there is no frontier left unexplored by advertisers. Prepare to be bombarded by all the “essential” things you must have to ensure that your child develops and thrives to its highest potential.

And that’s before you’ve even given birth.

Part of your responsibility as the adult caring for a newborn and preparing a child for life is to become a discerning consumer. This begins with being rational about what you actually need and what’s clever marketing. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and want to buy every new gadget out there. But, while babies can be expensive, remember they don’t have to be.

Newborns don’t require much and it needn’t all be top of the line merchandise. In fact, much of it can come your way in the form of hand-me-downs or garage sale finds.

Everyone has their own level of tolerance for used items. While some people might happily buy used cloth diapers on kijiji, someone else might shudder at the thought. As a parent, you must always do what you are comfortable with, but do give used baby gear a chance.

Remember that many things will be outgrown before they are used. Additionally, if you have a large extended family, you may be given more than you need without having to purchase much at all. Consider the wealth of experience that surrounds you. Ask relatives and friends that have children what the most essential things are—you might be surprised at the range of answers.

Safety first

Obviously, no amount of money saved is worth putting your child at risk. Car seats expire, so check the date on the bottom before accepting a used seat. Also, if you can’t be sure that the car seat has never been in an accident, don’t take it.

Having a top of the line seat won’t matter much if it isn’t installed properly. Before your due date, search for a car seat clinic near you through the SGI website or book an appointment with a car seat technician at https://www.sgi.sk.ca/online_services/locators/carseattech/index.html

Baby needs a safe place to sleep. While many parents now sleep with their children for the first few months and beyond, if you have a used crib or playpen make sure all of the pieces are intact and that there hasn’t been a safety recall on the product. As well, replace the mattress if it has seen a lot of wear. Too soft of a surface can smother baby.

Baby fashion

The days of the Winnie the Pooh diaper bag are long gone. Baby accessories are now a reflection of the parent’s style, and it can be difficult to keep perspective when you see your friends with all the latest trends. If keeping to a budget is important and necessary to you, comfort yourself that having the latest fashions does not reflect on the love you have for your child.

There are strollers out there that can attach to a car seat, collapse to fit into the trunk of a car, and go off-road like an all-terrain vehicle. Before making a purchase, consider what you will really be using the stroller for. If short walks to the park predominate, a $30 umbrella stroller might suffice. If jogging through the woods is more your style, the price will be higher. Knowing that, you may want to start watching used websites, garage sales and mommy Facebook pages to snag some great deals.
There are so many opinions about how to raise a child. From cloth or disposable diapers, to breast or formula feeding, to baby’s development, you will likely feel overwhelmed at times.

Keep your wits about you. Advertisers like to make us feel as though we are incapable of raising a child without their products. Those fancy nursing covers used to be called a blanket. Bottle sterilizers were once a pot of boiling water.

Don’t allow the pressure to spend more money detract from this spectacular, once in a lifetime experience.


Make sure your baby is safe and warm. Consult with other parents and respected elders and make decisions based on reality. What you save now will be spent later, believe me, when the hand-me-downs dry up and your child begins playing sports and attending birthday parties. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Weekly Column: On Living Long, and Wide, and Deep

Living long, and wide, and deep

It’s a popular trend to think that, since we don’t know that we will live long, we should live wide—taking in every experience possible with the motto “you only live once,” or YOLO. But research reveals that simply experiencing thrills and pleasures doesn’t make us truly happy. Maybe it’s time to also experience living deeply…where our consideration for others and making small meaningful sacrifices enriches our experience and brings lasting contentment and gratification.

Two articles in the Atlantic, both by Olga Khazan, discuss why more and more people feel isolated and depressed in today’s society. In “How Loneliness Begets Loneliness” (April 6, 2017) the author states that Americans are “facing an epidemic of loneliness and isolation.” She cites research showing that a lack of social connection can cause significant health problems including depression and anxiety. The statistics in the US and Canada are roughly the same in stating that a quarter of us are lonely.

It is no wonder, then, that 1 in 10 Canadians will suffer a depressive episode in their lifetime. Once you are lonely and depressed it becomes harder to get out and see people, and the spiral deepens. 
In her second article, “Meaningful Activities Protect the Brain from Depression,” (April 21, 2014) Khazan discusses a study of 100 teenagers which found that kids are less vulnerable to depression if they are predisposed to selfless deeds.

Of course, depression is a real medical condition and it can’t be solved by saying “go do selfless deeds, you’ll feel better.” But it is heartening for parents to know that a little action on our part might insulate our children from depression and mental anxiety down the road.

Kahzan describes two kinds of joy. The first is the selfish kind of pleasure found in receiving a gift or purchasing something new. This happiness quickly fades. The second type of joy is the more gratifying feeling of contentment that comes from helping others, doing meaningful work, or “otherwise living a life well lived.” This sense of well-being lasts longer.

In other words, it’s better to give yourself and your kids experiences where you interact meaningfully with each other and the community, rather than worrying about giving them gadgets and vacations. What a relief.

It makes sense that if doing things for others protects young people from depression, the same should be true for the rest of us.

It also makes sense that many of the people that have been uncertain about their income and future over the past few years might have suffered anxiety, depression or isolation as a result. This is bad for your health and hard on your family. It can trickle down to the kids and affect their behaviour and confidence. We have a vested interest in learning to cope with and prevent isolation and depression wherever possible.

Rather than searching for ways to give yourself and your kids the thrills of a Disney vacation, teach them to appreciate the everyday wonders around them. Allow them to be bored and learn to entertain themselves. Teach them that feeling good doesn’t come with a price tag but rather that it takes effort to create a happy life.

Give them opportunities to volunteer and discuss how it made them feel. Show them how other people live and teach them gratitude. Let them feel the rush of bettering someone else’s situation.
Talk about the things that make them feel grateful and inspired, and do more of those. Have them identify what makes them feel unhappy—like seeing other people’s exciting Facebook statuses—and, periodically, have them unplug from it. Remind them that what they see online is not reality.

You only live once. 

The idea that you can only enjoy the high points, the visits to the mountains, the bungee jumping, the gatherings with friends, is an idea that detracts from the rich, everyday miracles of northern lights, a good book, an inspiring conversation.

When you feel stressed at trying to provide your family with an amazing life experience, take heart in knowing that teaching them to have morals, a positive attitude and a good work ethic doesn’t have to cost a dime. Armed with these attributes and a dedication to helping others, hopefully your children will know how to cope with what life throws at them.

It would be nice to provide your children with a worldly upbringing, full of adventure and spontaneity. Preparing for an adulthood that is often hard and mundane is equally as important, though.


Being a provider in an economic downturn is not for the faint of heart. Relax about giving your kids all the vacations and toys that they dream of. Teach them to appreciate life’s small pleasures so that they can recognize joy when they feel it. 

Monday, 1 May 2017

Weekly Column: The Payday Loan Trap

The payday loan trap

 Payday loans are high interest, short-term loans that can be obtained without a credit check. As the name implies, they are advertised as a way for someone with poor credit to obtain fast cash until they can pay it back on pay day. In order to receive a payday loan, you must be 18, have proof of income and a bank account.

Look on any payday loan company’s website and you’ll see how easy it is to get a loan—apply online! approved in 15 minutes! But, as they say, if something seems to good to be true, it probably is.

While a payday loan might get you out of a short-term situation like a car repair or the unexpected cost of a prescription, it’s not a long-term fix for not having enough money.

For example, if you need $300 to cover your bills until payday (typically a two-week loan), that loan will cost you just over $60. For someone who only uses a payday loan as an emergency measure, and doesn’t see emergencies pop up very often, one might think it is okay to pay that $60. But what if you’re paying that $60 in fees every few months?

Rather than looking at payday loans as a back-up plan, start looking at that $60 fee on a $300 loan as money you could save by finding another source of emergency money. If you are tempted to give payday loans a try, first ask yourself if you have exhausted all other alternatives.

Have you visited your bank to inquire about a personal loan, a line of credit or an overdraft? 

Although not free, these options are much more sensible than the over 400 per cent annual interest of most payday loans. Compare even the average credit card’s annual interest at nine to 30 per cent…if you are trying to avoid incurring debt then you can quickly see the dangers of using payday loans and missing a deadline.

No one should ever recommend using a credit card to get you from pay cheque to pay cheque. But if you are able to use it only for essentials and you can pay it off in full every month, you have “borrowed” for free. The thing is, even the lesser of two evils is still evil. How can you get your finances under control without resorting to the risk of a high interest credit card, if you can even get one, or the slippery slope of payday loans?

If you are thinking of taking out a payday loan to pay off your cable and cell phone bill, it is actually cheaper to pay late charges than take out the payday loan. And, if you are that strapped for cash, it’s time to downsize the cell bill and cut the extras like cable, satellite, even internet.

You are actually better off cashing in on your RRSPs or TFSAs, rather than getting tangled up in a spiral of out of control fees on payday loans that you aren’t paying back on time. But this will not help, either, unless you can save a small nest egg for the next time you need money to get you to pay day.

Obviously, the person that has already missed payments and has no savings or access to conventional means of credit is the one most enticed by the no strings appeal of a payday loan. But, should that person be unable to repay on time, she is also the most at risk of being ruined by the payday loan industry.

For the person already caught up in the spiral of payday loans, there is no alternative but to seek out help. Of course, the best advice is don’t let it come down to a payday loan in the first place.

Consider all of your vices and eliminate them along with any unnecessary spending. Get help if you have addictions. Sell things you no longer need and don’t use. Take in a roommate, couch surf if you must. Access the temporary assistance of a church or foodbank, or contact a shelter. Ask for extra hours, look for extra work, and do your best to set aside a bit of emergency money every payday. 

Although it may seem an inconsequential amount of money, that little bit of savings, accumulated, might be what tides you over until payday in an emergency.


Pay day loans exist because there is a need for small, easily accessible, short-term loans. People might’ve had bad experiences with banks or they might not understand what is available through more conventional methods. Before you take the sizable risk of a payday loan, explore every other alternative possible. If it’s too late, get advice at from professionals like Canada’s Credit Counselling Society at nomoredebts.org.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Fairies Welcome

The Easter Bunny brought my boys a few pieces of fairy garden furniture and a gnome and a little solar light each, and some packets of seeds. Now that it has stopped snowing (hopefully!) we have enjoyed a day outside in the pleasant sun.

A pond, of course.
Located next to the cold frames on the south side of our house

The top pond could theoretically overflow into the bottom pond
via the rock stream. I'm afraid the theory vs the reality is
blowing a 5 year old's mind

Fairies welcome, mate!

A spot for tea

The foot bridge
I don't know why, but I've felt somewhat tentative about getting started in the yard this year. It's been raining and snowing for weeks, which is enough to dampen the most enthusiastic of spirits. But I've been battling a case of the overwhelms, already, at the weed control, the unfinished jobs, and, frankly,the dog poo.

But there is something so delightful about imagining a little garden for fairies to visit while we are not looking. The sheer joy the kids have felt at building a little stream and firepit, walkways and a little door, reminded me that I, too, have a magical space for tea and flowers and pretty things and peacefulness. It doesn't have to be perfect, and it won't be. But it's our little spot to do what we want with, and enjoy the sun and summer together.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Weekly Column: Practical Money Skills for All

Practical money skills for all

How many adults say they wish they knew more about, or had done better with, managing their money? Considering few things are more essential to your survival and quality of life for yourself and your family, it’s baffling that people don’t do more to educate themselves on how credit works, understanding investing, or learning to save money and budget more efficiently.

But, maybe you can’t blame people for being overwhelmed or embarrassed by their lack of knowledge. If you didn’t learn budgeting skills while growing up, it can be like someone handing you a skill saw and asking you to build a dresser. Although a basic, vital life skill, it’s not second nature for people to know how to use their money wisely. If you’ve never had a productive conversation about saving and spending, then how can you be expected to make all the right decisions?

Lack of confidence might prevent people from learning to handle money more wisely. Maybe they don’t know where to start and are embarrassed to ask. But there might be more at play than just feeling inadequate.

Apathy is the numb lack of concern borne of feeling that nothing you can do will make a difference.

It’s the feeling of not being interested, and not caring. And if you’ve been in the hole long enough, or were born there, it’s not hard to imagine giving up and expecting nothing better for yourself.

There is much research to suggest that, once a person feels their situation will never change, people give up on trying to save or make wise financial decisions. The $10 meal at McDonald’s becomes the only pleasure you may get in a world of stress and deprivation. So, although $10 worth of groceries might feed you several healthier meals, people opt for the more visceral gratification (in this case, the unhealthy, expensive junk food) first.

In a perfect world, all children would get a proper education that included practical money skills. They would have the math skills to compare prices, understand credit, calculate interest, and the reasoning skills to know when they are being sold a raw deal.

This learning and mindfulness would carry on throughout their lifetimes and they would be able to defend themselves as well as possible against market fluctuations, economic downturns and lifestyle inflation. In a perfect world.

Sadly, parents aren’t always teaching their kids money skills and it’s not something you can leave to the school system. If your kids don’t see you budgeting and saving, why would you expect the school to teach it to them? How applicable is a school lesson on budgeting if little Johnny believes there is always more money to be had? If he doesn’t have chores? If he’s never had to save his money and buy his own gadgets?

It’s as easy as discussing why you buy generic brands at the grocery store. Or saving the recycling money to go to the movies. Conversations about money and value are only one of the ways to teach your kids about budgeting.

It’s never been easier to educate yourself on all sorts of things, money matters included.  The Internet has brought the library to your fingertips, you might say. Pay attention to the sources, and switch your reading habits to learning about saving and budgeting. Include your kids on this educational path.

Although created by Visa, the site www.practicalmoneyskills.ca is a wonderful online resource for families and schools. This site has games for kids to familiarize them with money and saving. There are even complete lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom.

Be discerning. Ask yourself, is this site trying to sell me anything? Are there hidden obligations or costs to this program? If so, keep looking until you find free, educational resources like practicalmoneyskills.ca or moneymentors.ca to fill in the gaps in your money sense.

Start teaching your kids the important skill of budgeting and comparison shopping. Give them a small allowance and make them save it to buy what they want. They learn far more from saving and delaying gratification, rather than being handed what they want whenever they ask.

Many people do well with their money without much advice. A basic instinct to spend less than what they make and save for a rainy day has helped them through what life throws at them. But what about talk of interest and mortgage rates? Investing and taxes? At what point does the fine print exceed our knowledge, and how willing are we to give up some leisure time to learn more about handling our money?


Many of us need to learn more about finances. Don’t be scared, and don’t feel like your situation will never improve. Dedicate some time to your financial future.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Weekly Column: Rabbits don't lay eggs

Rabbits don’t lay eggs

Image result for easter eggs


As Easter approaches, stores have filled up with chocolate eggs and all the holiday paraphernalia that comes with it. Whether it is the $40 stuffed animals or just the sheer amount of chocolate consumed, the whole thing can get excessive and, frankly, the more you give a kid the harder it is to impress them.

On one hand, it makes sense to compare prices and try to get more for your dollar. In other words, shopping online for the treasures and treats that the Easter bunny will deliver, or comparing bulk vs prepackaged chocolate, or making your own desserts rather than buying ready-made. There are many inventive ways to get yourself the same lavish, over-the-top Easter feast that you were used to before the drop in the price of oil.

As parents, it’s hard to scale back spending on birthdays and holidays because you want to give your kids the best you can. Parents might be tempted to do without at other times and still push the boat out on special occasions. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, if you’ve been struggling to get back on your feet, is it realistic to keep sacrificing in order to keep up appearances? At what point do you say enough is enough and stop the cycle of spending money you don’t have? And when do you allow your kids to adjust to the truth, rather than hiding it from them and perpetuating unrealistic expectations? Maybe it’s time to accept this as our new normal, and adapt rather than imitate.

Easter is a holiday that, for many, has become less about religion and more about the arrival of spring. To some, it’s nothing more than a week off school and a chance to eat chocolate. There comes a time when we, as parents and grandparents, must decide if we will just go with the flow and allow all our old meaningful holidays to be swept up in the current of consumerism or if we will take a stand against it and stop buying in.

What are your favorite Easter memories from childhood? A visit with grandparents? Possibly a walk through puddles or an Easter egg hunt? Did you travel to see family or did you have relatives stay over? Do you actually remember how much chocolate you received? Does it matter now?

If buying your kids a new super hero themed Easter basket every year, along with a set of fuzzy rabbit ears, a stuffy, a toy, the list goes on, is what Easter means to you, well, to each their own. But if you can’t afford it, maybe it’s time to reconsider the memories you want your children to take with them into adulthood and parenthood themselves.

How about a walk to collect pussy willows in a bouquet? How about a trip to the library (God save ‘em) for some books and a movie which you then read or watch together, never once glancing at your cell phone?

How about your children be in charge of making the meal, or help, with supervision, depending on their age? What will they remember better, that time they made gravy for grandpa? Or the time they scored some new sneakers from the Easter bunny? It’s hard to say, anymore. Maybe kids would hate that and dig in their heels about having to help. All the more reason to make them.

It seems like the more plastic there is involved in a holiday, the more commercial it has become and the further it has drifted from the original reason for celebration. If times are tough under your roof, why not return to some more traditional customs and forego the plastic Easter that has slowly become the norm?

Buy a dozen eggs and some food colouring and dye eggs with your kids. Let them take the lead and pick their colours and designs. Set up a treasure hunt that has challenges and tests skills. Make the focus of this Easter the people, not the stuff.

Let’s become a compassionate society and forego the Facebook and Instagram pictures of all the loot your kids got this Easter. Let’s make it socially unacceptable to splash materialism across social media feeds. Let’s frown on it.

Instead, show pictures of yourself doing things with your kids. Go climbing trees. Play at the park. Let those pictures characterize your timeline. Show off what you have done for others. Instead of showing baskets of chocolate and gifts that you have received, post only images of what you have given to those in need.


People are still hurting. There are kids that won’t get much this Easter, just like they didn’t get much for Christmas. But if they are given time and attention, it might be their most meaningful holiday yet. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Courage, my word


Image result for the tragically hip
The Tragically Hip



It's been a significant few weeks for the introverted. I strongly disagree with the budget cuts (extreme cuts that will change the functioning of our little province's library system) that have been made in Saskatchewan. It was, to me, that one issue that might draw me out of the shadows to face my anxiety demons and take a stand and say "not if I can help it".

I've circulated a petition that asks to return funding to the 2016 levels. I've approached people I do and do not know, driven the gravel roads and gone door to door. I don't want to make this sound like too big of a deal, because when it became too much for me I allowed myself to stop. And I only had a few hours to do it. But I got some signatures and I feel that, looking back on this, I will be relieved that I didn't let the opportunity pass.

I also attended the Read In outside our local MLA's office, joined by some friends and family and other concerned library supporters. We were on the news. We will likely be in the paper. All of this is exposure that I dread with every fiber. Naturally it is also a position that puts me at odds with more conservative minded relatives that disagree strongly with my stance. In short, the whole thing stresses me out and has brought to the fore some anxious emotion.

It would be easier to allow this to pass, unmentioned. Courage. It didn't come, it doesn't matter. There have been moments when I really felt the pounding of my heart in my chest and thought, "courage, you couldn't come at a worse time".  But there is never a good time to make uncomfortable decisions and stand up for what you deep down believe in. There is also never a good time to let your values slide. 

This is a song that has taken on such dimension for me in the past weeks. For so many reasons. Read up on Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip if you are unfamiliar. 

I'm sure I'm not done putting myself in uncomfortable places for issues I care about. I'm sure I'm not done feeling like a basket case when I do. But dammit all, there's no simple explanation for anything important any of us do...the human tragedy is living with the consequences (Courage, The Hip).

Weekly Column: For want of a library

There is a proverb that goes something like this:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Around the Lloydminster area, we are familiar with the uncomfortable decisions that come with reducing spending. We get it. When you’re bringing in less money, you have to spend less money. It makes sense, and it’s what this column has been preaching for over a year.

This column has also been preaching that your local library is one of your community’s greatest resources. It is a place of inclusion—anyone can walk in and read a book, borrow a computer, or sit and study. It is a place where those without a phone or the Internet can still access these tools while they apply for jobs, look for childcare, or search for a home.

It is a place where parents bring their kids to get them excited about books and reading. When children borrow books, they learn to respect the property of others, they commit to a deadline and they become aware of the community around them.

In small towns, a library is still a thing of pride—a destination for local families that prioritize reading in their homes. While Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education, Don Morgan, feels that “the future of libraries is leaning towards electronic media,” many parents would agree that there is a decline in children’s behavior and attitudes when they are placed in front of a screen for extended amounts of time.

There is something to be said for reading paper books, which is hard to afford in an economic downturn like we have been experiencing. Yes, balancing budgets is important and worthy, but cutting libraries to this extent is taking resources from the young, the unemployed, and the marginalized people that consider the library a safe place of learning.

Whatever your child grows up to be, limiting their exposure to books now surely limits their reasoning and deductive skills later in life. Sure, they can google what they want to know. And when they do, they will have to discern for themselves what is really true. The Wikipedia page that you or I could update with our own thoughts at any time? The blog or fringe website of someone presenting themselves as an expert? There are plenty of hacks that have been published in print form, but visiting a library and exposing your child and yourself to a multitude of opinions gives you an opportunity to learn together while also becoming critical thinkers. Let’s not leave this kind of instruction up to our kids, alone on the Internet.

Perhaps these cuts won’t be the end of small town libraries. That’s hard to imagine, though, with these small main street entities already stripped down to a few hours a week. And that happened during the high-flyin’ fast livin’ days of the oil boom. If things pick up and Government revenues increase, will we ever see these little libraries reopen?

With regional libraries facing a 58% cut to their funding, programs such as interlibrary loans, e-books and literacy programming may be lost. If libraries can’t do kids programming, it’s possible that kids won’t have the same lifelong love of learning and reading. People in need will more easily fall through the cracks. The social costs of these cuts might actually be more expensive for the province and its tax payers in the long-term.

If you are passionate about books and feel libraries are an important resource in our small towns and in Lloydminster, learn more at https://lakelandlibrary.ca/2017budgetcuts. Send a letter or email to MLA Colleen Young, Education Minister Don Morgan and Premiere Brad Wall—their contact info and a petition is provided through the link.

Or join us at noon on April 7th outside MLA Young’s office by Mary Brown’s on the East side of Lloyd—unit 2-4304 40th Ave. Bring a library book and express your concern.

Taking away libraries is like stopping buying fresh fruit and vegetables to save money. Sure, you will survive for the indefinite future. But will you be better off? Or would continuing to invest in healthy things now ensure that there aren’t gaps and learning deficits that are more expensive and harder to fix down the road?

Like the proverb cautions, in a budget of billions of dollars, cutting $3.5 million from such a necessary community resource is like neglecting the feet of your horses. What will be lost for want of a library?


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

What Does the Library Mean to You?

I've found, in my little blog universe, a like-minded group that has saved me, saved me, at times, from feeling utterly alone in seeking the life I want for myself and my family. Just knowing that so many people are on the same path, be they near or far, has been a comfort when I didn't feel my own passions and interests reflected in my immediate surroundings. I am so grateful to have these connections to people that I can "speak to" and, happily, I can visit their blogs to learn and commiserate and cheer them on in turn. This sense of community, albeit virtual, has been a turning point for my emotional well-being and overall sense of place and happiness.

Another thing that has been paramount to my adjusting to becoming a mom, my struggles with depression and anxiety, and my maturity as an adult has been the local library, wherever I have lived. I have lived in the city (not a big one, didn't love it) where I basically lived and worked and breathed the university library and archives as a student and research assistant. I was even in charge of a small college library in one of my former positions. I have tutored literacy and English as a Second Language at various local libraries and I'm here to say that the safe, welcoming space of a local library is essential to making connections between the literate and those who need assistance. If not for the local library, where will the working person who needs help with their English meet a literacy tutor? At a noisy coffee shop?

When I worked as a life skills and employment support worker for a developmentally delayed young lady, the library was one of our favorite stops because it was a place where she could access the computers, flip through her favorite magazines and check out books that we used in our weekly lessons. The local library is a place of inclusion, empowerment and learning.

More recently, the local library has been a lifeline for me as I navigate writing a weekly column in the local newspaper. I check out books to research much of what I write about, and I encourage my readers to visit the library rather than spending their money on books they can ill afford (it's a frugality column, and though I want to support writers as well, my advice is from the saving money standpoint).

More personally, the library has been a place for me to teach my kids about literacy, community, responsibility, diversity and public service. We use the local library almost weekly. Monthly, for sure. We attend the craft and story mornings and we visit to borrow books and movies. This teaches them to look after someone else's property and keep track of deadlines and respect rules. When we go to the library my kids see people of colours, religions and economic backgrounds they are not familiar with. This is a good thing. We see people that are out of work, using public computers in a determined quest to better themselves. Without these public spaces, where would all of this activity, learning and mingling of cultures take place?

In a world where we are increasingly afraid of each other, how are two farm kids going to be exposed to people that are different? And will they grow up to believe that different is bad, strange, scary or dangerous?

I write a column in the paper about making lifestyle cutbacks to counter the loss of work and wages that many local people have endured in the last several years. I am a firm believer in examining your spending, tracking it, and making painful, uncomfortable choices to bail yourself out. And I can see that the Saskatchewan Government feels it is making those same types of choices when it cuts funding to libraries. But I would ask, on behalf of the people who are out of work, who have possibly lost their jobs and homes and have reduced their cell phone bills and internet bundles, where are they going to go to look for work, improve their resumes, or read a book rather than give in to despair?

With an accountant's eye, one might look at provincial libraries and see a non-essential public service that can be pruned or, in the case of Regina and Saskatoon, eliminated completely (the Province cut all funding to the two largest city libraries, leaving it up to municipal taxes to support those major city libraries). But what will the ripple effects be throughout small communities who have only been able to remain open a few mornings a week? What about the town where we used to live, which only has a k-gr 8 school with no library, whose students traipse across town once a week to the tiny library we used to visit? Will that town lose its library, and thus the school lose its library as well?

If I recall correctly, that little library was only open 10 or 15 hours a week. But it was the community hub in a town of 200 or so people. There were kids crafts, a book club, a place for the town and surrounding farm families to borrow books. It was a place where a tired, depressed new mom went to connect with other grown ups. And it helped immensely.

I want to do something to raise awareness of what's happening. I also need to really sit down and read what the exact situation is. For now, I 'm wondering if anyone out there has ideas what Saskatchewan can do to protest and turn this around. If you are a resident of Saskatchewan, there is a letter writing campaign you can join. Please pass it on to like-minded people.

 Save Saskatchewan's Libraries

Please leave any suggestions you might have in the comments!




Sunday, 26 March 2017

Weekly Column: Girls just wanna have fun(ds)

Girls just wanna have fun(ds)

Did you know that, in their lifetimes, women need to save more money than men? Statistically speaking, women are likely to live longer, and therefore need to plan for a longer retirement. Not only that, many women take time away from their careers to have kids. While some women are comfortable staying home to provide their own childcare, others return to work and find that they’ve either been passed up for promotions, missed training opportunities or have otherwise fallen behind in their field.

In the event of a family emergency, it quite often falls upon women to take time off to help. Whether it’s a family crisis, helping with aging parents or helping the kids adjust to becoming parents themselves, women are more likely to sacrifice their wages and promotions due to family responsibilities. Most would say that being involved in their community and family is well worth it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it affects how much money you will make in a year and over your lifetime.

Additionally, in most industries, women are still not paid the same amount as men doing the same jobs. While there’s been progress in wage parity, it’s still harder for women to get promotions and raises no matter how hard they work. So, what’s a girl to do?

Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you

No matter your financial plans, don’t wait for someone else to get them started. Get professional advice on the most effective ways to save and invest, whatever your age. The strategy of a young lady fresh out of university won’t be the same as that of a 50-something divorcee or a widow facing retirement alone. A newlywed young mom has a vastly different reality than an upwardly mobile businesswoman. What they all have in common, though, is a right and a responsibility to plan for their own future and the future of any dependents they support.

Plan for debt

There are many different debts that a woman might incur over her lifetime. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t let it stop you from saving a down payment, finding a property and purchasing a home. Get a roommate or turn the basement into a money-making suite if possible. Taking on student debt is quite likely an investment in yourself and your future. Sit down and plan how you’ll be able to pay for extra education.

When shopping for a vehicle, keep in mind the depreciation that happens the moment you drive a new car off the lot. Consider whether a used vehicle might suit your needs just as well. Do your research and watch for a used vehicle that still has warranty if you’re more comfortable having that security. At all times, think about how the interest you are paying on “stuff” might otherwise be going into savings. Don’t let your lifestyle choices of today eclipse your financial security in the future.

Diamonds (and gold) are a girl’s best friend

Not only women are intimidated by the stock market. However, if feeling that you don’t understand prevents you from building an investment portfolio, you are selling yourself short. Websites such as gogirlfinance.com and financialwoman.com can help boost your financial literacy. Meet with several financial advisers to discuss how you want to put your money to work for you. Don’t hire anyone who condescends to you—it’s your money and you should be comfortable talking to your investment professional.

Life is not a fairy tale

Things get complicated when you go from being a working woman, earning your own pay and deciding how to spend and save, to being a partner in a relationship. Combining incomes and households, whether in a marriage or common-law situation, is a serious endeavor. An honest discussion about financial goals seems a no-brainer, but not all couples know each others’ expectations or beliefs.

It’s true that many families have struggled to pay for necessities these last few years. Beginning a conversation about a woman’s financial needs might, at this point, seem moot. But, if you have some control over your household spending, perhaps you should start thinking of places to cut costs to save for your long-term future.

Perhaps you can educate your daughters or nieces on being financially independent. No matter whether you are single and working or in a committed relationship where all your needs are met, things change and unforeseen emergencies arise. The question is, will you be ready?

Having a solid safety net in place, for retirement and emergencies, only makes sense no matter your gender. But with lower wages and many factors drawing them out of the workforce, women need to be even more diligent and prepared. It’s never too late to come up with a plan.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Weekly Column: The thing about sales...

The thing about sales...

End of season clearance sales are upon us. Savvy shoppers everywhere are sharpening their pencils and making a list of things they will need for next winter. Some things to consider are: what size do you expect your kids to be wearing? What do you have that can be reused or handed down? Sold?

Do you normally receive hand-me-downs? Are you comfortable checking with friends to see if the right sized winter clothing is coming your way? Doing some queries before you go shopping might save you a bundle, even if what you are shopping for is on sale.

Gifts and useful things

Other things you might find on sale right now are winter-themed dishes, bedding and knick-knacks that might be given as gifts over the coming year. Scarf and mitten sets, lined jeans and the like are cozy Christmas gifts and can be stored until next winter.

But don’t forget you’ve already purchased these items! And don’t continue to buy more gifts next year, just because you have forgotten how much you paid. If your price limit is $50 and the regular price of the item is $50, you have done your part. Even if the item was priced significantly less, don’t feel tempted to continue spending—commit to spending as little as possible.

Don’t be swayed

As the days get longer, displays of summer tops and bright new dishes might feel like a reward for making it through another winter. But what use have you for more stuff? Yes, you may want a few new summer things, but they’re likely to be full price at this time of year. Learn the value and price of things—if you don’t know the regular price you may easily be fooled into thinking a so-called sale at one store is a better deal than the cheaper, regular price at another.

If it is a cheaply made piece of clothing, why would you pay full price when it is probably going to be on sale before the weather is nice enough to wear it? Stores display full price inventory in the lead up to the new season—soon we will be bombarded by new summer trends. 

Dig out your last year’s wardrobe before deciding you need to shop. What fits, and what doesn’t? What will you do with the clothes you aren’t going to wear? Having a “one in, one out” policy helps some people curb their spending. Don’t allow yourself to bring any new articles of clothing into your home unless you can part with something you already have. 

Of course, donating to one of the worthy local second hand shops or swapping with friends is a good use for your discarded clothing. Or, if you’re really ambitious, you might plan a spring garage sale and try to recoup some of the money you have spent on items you no longer want.

Do your research

If you’ve been waiting to purchase bigger ticket items for your yard, say a lawn mower or garden tractor, compare prices at a number of different stores. Inquire about sales and warranty. 

Don’t jump into an impulsive purchase before you have read customer reviews and asked around. You may find a great bargain advertised on social media or kijiji. Take your time and wait for the best deal to come along.

Test yourself

If you are shopping for some new spring and summer things, don’t go over board. Ask yourself some questions before you pull the trigger on those purchases:

Will you still want this item in six months or a year? How about two years? Five? 

If you decided not to buy it today, could you be bothered to drive back to the store tomorrow to get it? 
They say that once a customer has held an item they’re much more likely to buy it—avoid handling the merchandise that you are browsing through.

Also, ask yourself if you might find the item used. Many things built years ago were better quality. If what you are thinking of buying is not something that you have been waiting and watching for, it is by definition an impulsive purchase. 

Choose to sleep on it. Decide if you wouldn’t be better off putting that same amount of money against your highest payment.

Shopping seasonally


Shopping for Christmas decorations after the fact is only one example of how you can save drastically by shopping off-season. To some, it might negate the excitement of the holiday, but for the frugal it is an opportunity to save. 

To be truly and completely frugal, though, you have to ask yourself if buying something because it is on sale is wise at all. If you don’t need it and won’t use it, your money is better kept in your pocket.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Back From the Deep

A few of you might remember that I was starting a writing class this winter. It's into the final week now, and what a fabulous experience it has been :)

Naturally, our Internet went kerplunk as soon as I was immersed in an online course. So it was both a challenge and a blessing to lose our contact with the online world. Posting to the class was a pain--definitely! But I think I maintained as much of a presence as my busier classmates did. The Internet came and went, you see, in drips and infuriating drops, wasting more time trying to log on that just. going. to. write.

So it turned out that losing the Internet for a month was helpful, in that I had to quit checking email, reading American news (!), and trying to log in to my blinkety-blank online course site and just go do the work of writing. And, let me tell you, that's harder than it sounds.

Does anyone out there remember the days of staying with a task from beginning to end, uninterrupted, for hours? Looking up at the clock and being shocked at how much time has passed? I do! Mind you, it was years ago, before I had kids. And also before the Internet and smart phones reduced my attention span to that of a gold fish.

After a month of very little connectivity, I managed to regain some of my work ethic and attention span. I'm now able to work for an hour, even two, at a time without checking email, logging into my class to check for new posts, or just taking a break to browse news sites. I have to wonder--how productive of a writer would I be if I could keep up this forward momentum? If I could make writing, real, nose to the page writing, my priority instead of turning on my phone to feed my brain more smut and intrigue from the online headlines?

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep abreast of what's happening. The worst thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand, now more than ever. But feasting on every detail of Trumpism, right down to the fact that he obscenely eats ketchup on his well done steak, is distracting me from this very important moment in my life where I set out on a journey of learning, discovery, and achievement. I'm not saying I'm going to selfishly ignore what's going on so that I may improve my writing. I want to refocus my attention on the certain issues that most worry me, and let those concerns inform me as a person and a writer and do something about it.

The ability to shut off the noise and concentrate and invest yourself in what you are doing is being lost. I go on social media rants all the time, so I'll spare everyone that. But in my constant sense of crisis these last months, I felt my ability to cope being threatened. I'll admit I've had issues with anxiety and depression in the past (who hasn't, really!) but it surprised me, and scared me a little, to have the old hollow, panicked feeling return. Racing thoughts, avoiding social situations, the works.

Then I sent a draft of a story to a friend for feedback and was disappointed with I what I heard. It affected me far more than it should have. But I am at the beginning of this learning curve and my feelings were hurt. Frankly, it was hard to get back in the saddle. But when it is hardest, I know this well, that is where the most learning is taking place.

I can't say for sure if the way I was feeling was due to a cold February, Trumpism, the headlines, social media (I'm not on FB, twitter, instagram), the emotional process of writing and editing a story over and over, or just depression rearing its ugly head, but I can say this--whenever I feel the panicked, untethered feeling of not knowing what to do or how to manage, it is time to sit down and talk myself off that ledge.


A quilt for my friend. See any yellow butterflies?


I had to take a break from working on my story. I knew that I wasn't giving up, exactly. Just that my mental health needed a reprieve. I worked instead on a quilt I've been making for a friend (after a day in bed. I actually didn't have the energy to move, and Husband was home to look after the kids. I had a good cry, milked it for awhile, then put on my big girl panties.But in my defense, I also came down with a brutal flu!)

This quilt is significant in many ways. My friend and I have been very honest with each other about our separate journeys through depression. She has done so much better since reading that it helps to give yourself a symbol to watch for--that reminds you of something good, or that you will be fine, whatever. That's my understanding of it, at least! But she began to notice yellow butterflies around her, everyday. And I can attest to this. I have been with her every where and noticed yellow butterflies appear out of nowhere in the air, or on paper, pottery or photographs. It's uncanny.

My own process is the careful sewing and pressing of fabric. It brings me back to earth, out of the flights of anxiety that seem to take me off my feet. As much as I didn't feel like getting started, it helped me immensely this February to return to a project I abandoned in the spring once I got gardening.

And while I was sewing and pressing, sewing and pressing, I had time to ask myself what is at the root of my anxiety? Why, oh why, after years of calm, am I so shaken?

I always ask myself if my actions are in sync with my beliefs. As soon as they are not, I spiral into a bit of a funk. I just really can't stand how I feel in the pit of my stomach. And this is possibly because in the past my actions were out of line with my beliefs. I can't tolerate it now. So if it is a social situation where I find myself behaving differently around certain people, whether to impress or to show off, I am a basket case. I have to step back from some interactions but I am still processing and figuring out how to do it.

And in my forwarding a draft of a story around, and getting my feelings crushed in the process, I have to admit that I was searching for an "atta girl" rather than truly seeking growth and learning. It was tough but to be a writer one must find a thicker skin. I'm going to get better at detaching!

Over and over again, when my belly tells me something is not right in my world, I ask myself whether I seek meaning or approval. Have I been hoping to get noticed? Would I like recognition, praise, admiration? Or would I like to work on myself from the ground up, from the calloused feet to the greying hair, and be the very best version of myself that I can be? Because I won't find my best self in someone's compliment. I'll find it when I unplug from distractions, keep my family close and let into my world people that are on the same journey.

If you have ever suffered from anxiety, I hope that it helps you to find a hobby, activity or symbol that comforts you when it gets bad. Retreat from the noise, if possible. Practice things that calm you down. Talk to someone. It may help to explain to your kids what is going on, if you have them. They may end up traveling a similar path and it can only help them to remember the ways you coped and were open about how you felt. At the same time, don't burden them with too much information. Keep it age appropriate. I'm not a professional, so seek out professional advice. My situation is mild and only pops up from time to time. But there's no reason to be ashamed.

The other night, with Daddy going back to work for 10 days in the morning, I explained to my 7 yr old that I always make us special food the day that Daddy leaves. To make us feel better. Because it is sad when he leaves. And it's okay for us to feel sad. But it is also important to realize why we feel sad, and do things to make ourselves feel better. For us it is board games and stories, chicken nuggets and popcorn. Hey, whatever works, right?

I'm out of my February Funk. Rising back out of the Deep. At the same time, I'm ready to face the year with renewed determination to unplug from what distracts and upsets while still learning about and fighting for causes that are important. I can't fight every battle for every person and remain whole. But I can fight for some and save myself in the process.