Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Weekly Column: Losing and finding meaning in Christmas

It's been awhile. For no other reason than that I'm very busy, and I've seemed to lose interest in blogging. There are other writerly things going on, perhaps one day I'll sit to write about them. For now, a weekly column, also still happening. Wherever you are, I wish you a peaceful, contented holiday season!

Losing and finding meaning in Christmas

Ask anyone over the age of 40 these days, and they will tell you that Christmas isn’t what it used to be. Most of us have special memories, not of extravagant gifts or trips, but of simple things like a box of Christmas oranges being passed around at a community supper or the delight in being given a box of Pot of Gold chocolates.

The reason these things were thrilling is that you could only get mandarin oranges in December, and kids weren’t given treats in their every day transactions.

It’s difficult to make something special when our routine is full of daily rewards for doing regular things. You did your homework? How about a candy? Getting groceries with mom? You must need a sucker!

As parents and grandparents, we’re under enormous pressure to top the Christmases of old. But how can we recreate a magical feeling that we can’t quite define? And how can we reclaim the holiday for ourselves, and make it meaningful, when it seems to have become a runaway train of commercialism and debt?

It’s not only the expense of trying to capture the perfect Christmas memory that’s the problem. In fact, if money could do it I might give it a whirl. But you won’t find contentment at the bottom of your wallet, and what joy your gifts bring to others will slowly fade and by mid-January we’ll be back to the old grind with nothing but a mountain of bills to show for it. Will our kids remember these as “the good old days?” Probably, because they don’t know any better. And perhaps every generation has looked upon the next with a certain degree of gloom. But I ask you to sit in a quiet hall and listen to children sing Silent Night and not be moved to make Christmas more meaningful than just the bonanza of gifts and waste that it has become.

It’s not gifts we seek at Christmas, most people would agree. In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff hits the nail on the head, saying: “The Christmas presents, once opened, are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about them, and opening them. 365 days later, we try again and find that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we’re off to reach the next one, then the next one, then the next.”

Okay, if what’s in the box doesn’t matter, why do we do this? Why do we believe magic can be purchased, wrapped and given? Were our childhood Christmases so happy because our gifts were better in those days? Or was it because we didn’t get new things year-round or put up the tree in November?

Many of us preach that giving is much better than getting, but we should question why we feel the need to go over the top year after year in search of some emotional connection that is fleeting at best.
If we know we can’t really outdo ourselves year after year, why do we continue to try? Isn’t it a tad defeating? And is that contributing to the sense that Christmas just isn’t what it used to be?

In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding writes: “It is just so stupid, everyone exhausting themselves, miserably haemorrhaging money on pointless items nobody wants: no longer tokens of love but angst-ridden solutions to problems…What is the point of an entire nation rushing around for six weeks in a bad mood preparing for an utterly pointless Taste-of-Others exam which the entire nation then fails?”

It’s not all so negative as that. When we overspend on gifts we are trying to tell each other, hey, I love you. I heard you say you like purple so I got you a purple scarf. Or, hey, I want to show you how special you are by spending much more than the agreed upon limit, for what says love like the burden of debt?

A recent report in The Atlantic (December 2017) states that $70 Billion worth of gifts are returned every Christmas in the US, and that 30% of gifts go to waste. Are we putting ourselves further into debt in an attempt to show love, while those very tokens of love are unwanted? Why is this happening?

It’s happening because we all want to regain that feeling of childhood wonder. We’re just going about it the wrong way. Christmas will be magical again when we can honestly say we spent more time than we did money, that we made it a special season for strangers not just ourselves, and that we sought to reconcile with those with whom we’ve fallen out. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Weekly Column: Frugality of Minimalism?

Pick a path: frugality or minimalism?

An interesting question was asked on the personal finance blog ‘1500 Days to Freedom’: can frugality and minimalism co-exist? If not, which side do you choose?

Assuming that you’re reading this column because of a genuine interest in saving your money, what are your thoughts on the subject?

At first glance, many might assume that frugality IS minimalism, in a sense. After all, isn’t frugality buying what is needed when it is on sale, not being wasteful, saving for wants, and saving for a rainy day?

The short answer, it turns out, is frugality and minimalism do not necessarily go hand in hand…but they should.

How many times have you found yourself buying something because it was on sale? Did you know you wanted or needed the item before the reduced price caught your eye? Is it actually frugal to give in to that spendy urge and purchase things that are unnecessary?

By definition, frugality is being careful about spending money or using resources when you don’t need to. In other words, it’s frugal to turn out the light when you leave the room, keep the furnace turned lower overnight, and put your satellite on a seasonal break for the summer when you are mostly outdoors. Frugal people try not to pay interest, they might carpool, or drive vehicles that have better fuel economy.

A frugal person isn’t easily tempted to overspend, just to have what others have. Being frugal often means being efficient with money—shopping sales, doing some DIY, or buying bulk. People come by their frugality for different reasons. Some have experienced hard times or were raised with a prudent outlook. Others are saving to travel, retire, or be prepared for emergencies. There are any number of reasons to be frugal. Are you?

If you see a reduced price on something that you will need and use, it’s frugal to pick it up when it’s on sale. But let’s be honest, how many of us have corners of the garage and closets that are dedicated to these impulsive purchases that didn’t end up being necessary? And have you ever donated unused sale items that proved to be more clutter and less useful than you anticipated?

This is where minimalism comes in. Based on the idea of less being more, minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.

At first glance, the idea of ridding oneself of waste, distractions, clutter and consumerism seems like a very frugal thing to do. The website defines minimalism as a lifestyle that is sustainable, frugal, debt-free and natural. I would go one step further and describe it as a mindset that rejects material consumption, without the sense of deprivation.

But, as pointed out in the post by 1500 Days to Freedom (Ask the Reader: Frugality vs Minimalism), there are ways in which having a minimum of possessions can lead to unnecessary spending. Have you ever purged your home of unwanted and unused clutter only to later look for something you need and realize you’ve given it away? We’ve probably all had to rebuy something we once owned. In fact, the fear of that happening is what prevents many people from letting go of the clutter in their lives.

Being a staunch minimalist might also mean only buying things when they’re needed, rather than when they’re on sale. If a person doesn’t have room to store bulk items, tools, and the like, they might have to pay higher prices because they aren’t necessarily buying things on sale ahead of time.
The perfect example is paper towel. A frugal person might buy the Costco bale of hand towel and store it for a year before it’s all used up, but at a savings of several dollars. The minimalist might only buy one roll at a time, spending much more per roll, but avoiding the clutter of such large quantities.
The frugal minimalist, though, realizes that when there’s a year’s supply of paper towel in the basement it gets used wastefully because everyone knows there’s plenty more where that came from. The frugal minimalist (or the person that just can’t afford disposable cleaning products) tears up old towels and t-shirts for cleaning rags and saves that money altogether.

While many frugal people might consider themselves minimalists by definition, and minimalists might pride themselves on their frugality, there are instances when neither is true. It pays to re-examine our assumptions about how and why we spend our money.

Getting a good deal doesn’t mean it’s a wise purchase. Refusing to spend until it’s an absolute must can be a costly mindset. Somewhere in the middle is the prudent saver, on the path to financial security.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Weekly Column: Back to School, Not Back in Debt

Back to school, not back in debt

Many parents will agree that once your children are of school age, it’s tempting to spend more on what they wear. It’s natural to want to look nice, and supporting particular brand names and styles may be a part of what makes you feel confident and happy.

When the price of oil tanked in 2015, though, many local families had to reconsider their wants versus their needs. We need to pay the mortgage and other loans, utilities, groceries and bills. But do we need brand name clothing, new furniture, the trendiest shoes and that warm vacation?

People in the area were faced with hard decisions. Many are facing uncertainty to this day. And yet.
And yet, when it comes to our kids, we often give in to the urge to treat them to one more movie. One more camping trip. One more trip to the mall. We do it because we love them, of course. We want them to know they’re special and we shower them with things and experiences so they remember a happy, nourished childhood. These are good things, all of them.

Sometimes, however, we need to remind ourselves that it isn’t the stuff or even the vacations that make the memories or enhance the childhood. It’s the little conversations we might have on a drive, or their pride at having helped on a project, or the way you patiently taught them a new skill. None of these things need cost much money. Particularly if you haven’t the money to spend.  

With that in mind, as you consider your back to school shopping this year, remember that the delight and anticipation you may feel on your child’s behalf is exclusive from what they actually need for school.

If they have a closet full of clothing, how much do they need to survive another school year?

Providing they haven’t outgrown everything they own, couldn’t you get by with just a new piece or two of clothing and watch kijiji, the second-hand stores and clearance racks for whatever else they want?

The same goes for electronics. Although there are back to school sales happening, you must first consider whether the product is mandatory. In most cases, the school provides any compulsory technology. If that’s the case, do you really need to spend hundreds of dollars on iPads, laptops and headphones? Or will what you already have suffice?

Remember, if you’re going into debt buying things that aren’t needed, you have no one to blame but yourself. The buck has to stop somewhere. has some suggestions on how to stick to your budget this year:

·         How much of your back to school list can already be found in your home? 
What can be reused from last year? 
Is there any reason not to reuse backpacks, water bottles and lunch kits? 
If you have supplies that you aren’t going to use and don’t want, donate them so another family can use them.

·         Identify how much you can realistically spend this year. Don’t forgo making essential payments in order to buy unnecessary back to school gear.

·         Put needs before wants. Your child might want new sneakers but need a winter coat. Don’t leave the rational thinking to your offspring. If you watch for sales you might get both, but put essentials first.

·         Never pay full price. If there’s something your child wants, teach them to wait for a sale. This may mean wearing last year’s jeans on the first day of school—a lesson in delayed gratification and hardly a life-threatening experience. What doesn’t kill them will make them stronger.

·         Use cash. If kids can literally watch the money disappearing, it will help them prioritize their own desires. No matter their age, children can learn that when the money runs out the spending must stop.

·         Buy in bulk with friends, if you’re certain they’ll pay their share. It’s tempting to split bulk quantities of notebooks and pens with another family, but you’re no further ahead if they stiff you for their half. Enter into these types of agreements only with trustworthy, like-minded folks that won’t leave you footing the bill.

The passing of the school year is as momentous and noteworthy as a birthday, and is becoming just as emotionally loaded. We want to give our kids the very best, from back to school, to birthday parties, to Christmas, and all the days in between. Having experienced the economic slowdown of the past few years, though, local parents must be selective on how they spend their hard-earned cash.

We’ve been in debt and faced uncertainty before. Don’t let a new school year break your resolve to stay on budget. Teaching kids to handle money responsibly is as important as anything they will learn at school.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Weekly Column: Summer Fun in the City

Summer fun in the city

The end of the school year has now come to pass. Many of us have looked forward to it and limped across the finish line dragging an empty lunch kit behind us. No more school lunches, field trips, hot meals, morning race to the bus or struggle to get kids to bed on time. Summer is bliss.

And, of course, summer is expensive.

At the risk of repeating myself, it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to give your kids precious childhood memories. And while most parents strive to give themselves and their kids a few momentous experiences in a year, it’s really what we do together day-to-day that creates the overall tone of our lives.

The summer months look different for everyone. Many people will continue to juggle work with parenting, with the additional cost of summer childcare. Others will find themselves suddenly bombarded by their kids who are used to being stimulated at school every day. And for those that stay home with their littles, not much will change except for a desire to enjoy the summer weather and break up the monotony of the usual routine.

No matter the differences in our schedules, we are all left with the question: how can we create a memorable, fun summer without constantly overspending in the process?

Plan weekly themes

Sit down with the calendar and organize your summer into weekly blocks, taking into consideration any travel you might already have planned. How much time is left over? If you intend to spend most of that time locally, now visit some websites to begin filling in your spare time with free activities. Don’t forget the smaller towns surrounding Lloydminster—these places have unique activities and so much to offer without your having to travel far or stay overnight.

The Community Events Calendars found on the Lloydminster Library and City of Lloydminster’s websites are also good places to start. Midwest Family Connections and the Grace United Church have free programming available for children, and don’t forget the many playgrounds and parks in and around Lloydminster.

You might choose an age appropriate book for your children and use that as a jumping off point for crafts, games and movies. Let your child’s interests guide you. Charlotte’s Web could inspire some colouring, as well as a visit to the petting zoo or a local farm. At the end of the week, review what you learned together and what the highlights were before introducing the next week’s theme.

Ask around and incorporate local events into your weekly plans. Parades, chuckwagon races, rodeos and festivals of every kind will be passing through local communities. Pick and choose where to spend a bit of your summer budget and you will soon find that empty calendar filling up with lasting memories.

Now that you have an idea of what your summer will look like, are there any broad stretches with nothing to do? You might book swimming lessons or a summer camp, but remember that those boring days also build character. Constantly entertaining children doesn’t allow them to self-sooth and play and imagine. At the same time, be wary of allowing video games and TV fill their summer hours.

Have variation

Anyone that’s spent much time with kids knows that variety and a back-up plan are essential. Is everyone tired of the same old routine? Try some spontaneous fun like backyard camping and sleepovers with friends. Sometimes an impromptu wiener roast is even more fun than a planned event, and is usually cheaper and less work at the same time.

Car pool, pot luck and coupon

No one wants to come across as cheap, but if anyone in the Midwest hasn’t admitted times have changed perhaps it is up to you to fill them in. If you have friends you prefer to travel with, adjust schedules so you can ride together when possible. Keep coupons in the vehicle for any drive-thru you may find yourself visiting. Of course, pack your snacks and plan your meals, but save on those little treats wherever possible. Communicate with other adults and see if a potluck picnic can shave any of the cost off your day-trip plans.

Embrace the summer

Summers in Canada can be dreadfully short. We don’t want to take any of the fun out of these warm weeks by discouraging our kids or pinching our pennies too hard. But the reality is, there is always another reason to overspend. Many of us are still paying for Christmas. Don’t add to your problems by going overboard this summer.

With a bit of planning, parents can bond with their kids at local attractions while teaching them that adventure is a frame of mind. Find meaningful ways to connect while still spending responsibly.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Weekly Column: Planning on a Pet?

Planning on a pet?

Pets can be an essential part of the family. Just about all of us have fond memories of a childhood pet and playmate of some sort. Beyond companionship, having a pet teaches children responsibility, encourages compassion, and may even help prevent some allergies. If your kids are begging you for an animal to care for, all of the positives make it a hard proposition to resist.

There are many benefits to having a pet, and if the right one comes your way it is wonderful to welcome a new member into the family. Too often, though, families don’t take the time to evaluate whether an animal fits their lifestyle. As well, leaping into pet ownership without fully considering the cost is folly. No matter how alluring the idea of a pet might be, there are a number of things to save for before you take responsibility for another life.

All creatures, big and small…

…cost money. Before beginning to discuss what kind of a pet to get, you must first sit down and decide what you can realistically afford. Being led by your heart, or your kid’s, can lead to heartache if you find that a huge purebred dog and his vet and feed bills are bankrupting you.

 If you’re trying to keep a low budget, you might go the route of a fish. After the initial costs of setting up an aquarium, which you might find used, remember you will still have filters to buy and a tank to keep clean. Plus, you can’t hug a fish.

Pets also take time. Have you got the time and patience to house train a puppy? Or is the more aloof and independent house cat a better choice?

Do you work long hours, and will the animal be alone too much? Before you commit to the care of a beast, large or not, have you considered how it will affect your vacation plans? Have you got someone to do your chores while you are away?

And what of containment? Will you need to build a fence, in the case of an acreage owner that desires a horse or some sheep or goats? Where will you get your winter feed? Will these animals eventually need sheared, shoed, or sheltered? Who will do this, and how much will it cost? Are you comfortable taking on these tasks yourself?

And what of transport? Do you need a trailer, if you’ve gone big? Will you need help training your pet? If your kids are horse crazy, perhaps it is best to find someone with horses and give the kids a chance to work with large animals before you commit to the work and expense of keeping your own.

Man’s best friend

There’s no denying the comfort and companionship of a dog. Before you consider bringing one into your family, though, have a realistic look at what feeding and housing the animal is going to cost.
Many breeds have had costly medical conditions bred into them. Have you researched the common problems that come with that expensive pedigree? Are you passionate enough about the dog to sacrifice vacations and shopping trips down the road if you end up with enormous vet bills? Or would you give a mixed breed from a shelter a chance at a new life?

No matter how you slice it, there are costs associated with getting a pet. If you are unsure of making that commitment, there are still ways you and your kids can get involved with animals.

Volunteer, pet-sit, dog-walk

A great way for a family to decide if pet ownership is right for them is to look after a neighbour’s animal while they are away. Do you find it rewarding? Or does the responsibility cramp your style? If the kids can’t be bothered it is a good indication of what will happen when the “new” wears off a pet of their own.

The SPCA offers many opportunities for volunteers, from helping with fundraising to walking dogs or fostering animals that await adoption. Animal-loving kids could also ask for donations to the SPCA in lieu of birthday gifts—these kinds of actions exemplify a child committed to loving and caring for a pet long-term. If your child is serious and passionate about getting an animal, it can be a tremendously enriching experience for him or her—and one that deserves a spot in your family’s budget.

There is no denying the joy a pet can provide. For many families, saying goodbye to an old pet is devastating. When considering adding to your family, you must realize the costs and sacrifices that come with the fun and games. Choose a pet that you can afford to care for over the long-term, and enjoy every minute of that special bond.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Weekly Column: Advice for the weekend warrior

Advice for the weekend warrior

When the snow melts in the spring, many homeowners look around their property with renewed energy and see a number of projects that need attention as the days get longer and warmer. Whether it be painting a fence, replacing some windows, rebuilding a deck or installing flowerbeds, it is all bound to cost money before it gets done.

Anyone who makes their living in the oil patch knows that when there’s time for these projects, there usually isn’t money. And when you’ve got the money, you are working and don’t have the time. 

Spring break-up is a great time for that “honey do” list, but when your work is shut down with no definite date of return, it can and should be a time of conservative spending.

Of course, not everyone is putting in the extreme hours and distances of the oil patch workers. If you work a nine to five job with weekends off, the last thing you might want to do is get home from work and change out a toilet, or spend your weekend off struggling with a home repair.

And then there’s the farmers. Making hay while the sun shines is more than just an expression. It’s a way of life. Those jobs around the house, no matter how big or small, have to wait until the cows are out to pasture, the crop is in, the haying is done, and the list goes on. When there’s a break from the most urgent work there are still fences needing mended, machines needing serviced, and probably some tinkering do in the shop. 

You get my point.

What everyone has in common is that home and yard maintenance often gets left until the last minute. And when it does, it can cost significantly more to do when you are unprepared and disorganized.

Gathering the supplies to do a job around the house or yard can take as long as the job itself. Also, trying to purchase the necessary tools and hardware at the last minute is bound to cost more—if you can find it at all. Save yourself a headache by making some lists and shopping around. This can not only make the job go more smoothly, it can also save you time and money.


When deciding what jobs to tackle at your next opportunity, prioritize the most vital ones and leave the cosmetic touches for later. Yes, it would be nice to get that fence painted, but if you have a drip somewhere that has the potential to become a costly, inconvenient emergency, deal with it first. Once you have a good list itemized from most important to least, you can begin budgeting and pricing out materials for all of what you need.


At some point, most everyone has been caught off guard by the price of materials when they start a project at home. You can lessen the sticker shock, though, if you do your homework and call around for quotes on supplies. Whether it’s lumber or windows, a large price difference might exist between stores. Leaving your shopping for the weekend, also, might greatly increase your costs if some of the competition is closed. Make the effort to shop during the week if it will save you a great deal of money.

Likewise, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Check out kijiji and online trade and sell groups before you pay full price at the hardware store. Know your prices and decide if used is right for you. As well, consider listing anything you want to get rid of. That lime green tub, toilet and vanity combo you hate might be the retro look someone is going for.

Get your supplies and tools ready for when you have time to tackle the job. If that basement bathroom reno is waiting for a day of rain, have everything on hand if at all possible. Don’t spend your precious day off rounding up the necessaries.

Lastly, know when you’re in over your head. There are many home repairs and renovations that need to be up to code. Don’t create issues that will cause you, or a future buyer, costly problems down the road.

Nothing is more frustrating than realizing you have overpaid for things. When it comes to home maintenance and repair, you already don’t want your free time taken up with difficult and expensive extra work. Do your research. Figure out ahead of time what it’s going to cost. Set money aside for the project, then do your shopping, and tackle the job in a strategic way. Getting the most urgent tasks off the list will leave time for the cosmetic ones, and maybe even some rest and relaxation when the list is completed. 

Friday, 11 August 2017


It's been too long since I've come to this space to centre myself.

Blogging used to bring me back to my foundation, or at least it felt so. In putting my thoughts and intentions into words here, I always felt clarity and grounded-ness return. I'm not sure of that now, nor am I sure why.

It all has to do with with actually following through on what one publicly declares, and the pernicious contradiction between introversion and the online world. I'm not sure I can go on with it.

At the same time, there are things left unsaid that I feel I will need to write out to understand...about life, motherhood, writing, gardening, and all the things that make me feel whole. And I have no problem sharing that, in fact, it seems in some odd way to help me. And there's the paradox.

It's been a summer of high expectations that no doubt had to fall short in some way or another. When you have such long winters it's hard not to lay the hopes and dreams of the whole year at the feet of a couple unsuspecting months of sunshine and tell them, "work, damn you. Make it all worthwhile!"

But of course summer can't do that. A garden doesn't simply grow and produce without weeds (and oh how many weeds). You can't just hit the end of the school year and drop everything and expect that only fun will ensue. When you abandon all the personal growth you've undertaken and achieved in increments over what seems like years, mowing down on chips and hotdogs and, yes, alcohol, all in the name of summer's freedom, it is hard not to come out the other side bereft and constipated and wondering what hit you.

I guess that's where I am right now.

I began the summer by throwing in the towel on my organic aspirations and buying a jug of Round-Up and poisoning thistles around my yard. You see, the thistle problem here has morphed into a situation that feels really drastic and hopeless at the same time. I haven't taken a single picture of what used to be my pride and joy. And I've felt unable to write about it because I've abandoned a principle that felt so important. And I felt that I've taken this blog and changed it and can't really return to it now that I've broken a sacred trust.

I felt like the couple readers I have would pick up and leave me, which you might.

While I'm confessing my sins I might also add that the spending this summer has also veered from my comfort zone. We've done more camping and I'd like someone to explain to me how food that you cook over a fire is so exorbitantly more expensive than that which you cook inside your home. I suspect it's all those chips. Whatever the case, a couple of shopping sprees where I justified the binge with the statement, "this is what we save all year for, kids!" has left me feeling completely out of whack.

I haven't been living in alignment with my values and it gets me every time.

I think I expected 40 to be an age where, though I might have insecurities regarding my looks and womanhood, at least I would have my proverbial shit together in a mental sense. And lately that just hasn't been the case.

The old truck I drive just cost a bundle of money to fix and the indecision whether to fix it or nix it feels like a twenty-something conundrum. But these situations are going to arise and no amount of writing about budgets and being proactive and the like is going to make the obvious choice stand out. And I guess I thought we were above these situations and decisions. But life still happens to those who budget. And when those who budget justify some major discretionary spending blowouts, coming back to earth hurts.

I allow this to happen to myself too often. I regularly exercise, for awhile, and recognize how good I feel when I eat right. I get more confidence and my body and mind and ideals are in tune with each other. For whatever reason, I derail when faced with temptation. Often, the sweets and sentiment of Christmas. In this case, the indulgence and allure of childhood memories at the lake. Missing from those pictures is the balance that allows me some latitude while also keeping me on the right track.

I can see now, also, that it was a mistake to abandon writing for the summer. I took a class and felt I had made some progress in the winter and spring. But this was an important summer in that both kids start school in the fall, and I felt that hunkering down with them was the best way to savour these days together. I intentionally set aside my writing goals and now feel it's impossible to regain my momentum. I can also see how hard the transition will be in September and I'm already freaking out.

Luckily, there is time. There is time every day to return to exercising. I have time right now to make a smoothie and sit on the deck visiting my guys. And there's a couple weeks yet to establish a routine that will help carry me over the bump in my road where two little boys get on the bus and I am alone for the day. That's a day I've pictured for years, sometimes with longing and often with trepidation. Right now I view it with something akin to terror, because I don't see who will be here alone without them. I don't see, right now, who that person is or how she will manage.

I feel like I allowed two months of summer, with no routine or goals, to derail my confidence and intentional life I'd been living. How silly of me to allow that to happen. But it is easily rectified. A trip to the library, plenty of books and snuggles, fresh air and exercise and some gentle self-care. I really let myself go this summer and I'm disappointed in how I veered from my course in almost every way possible. But it was me who had set the course to begin with, and me that must set it right.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Weekly Column: So What The Hell is a Fidget Spinner?

So what the hell is a fidget spinner?

If you have kids, or even if you don’t, you may have heard of “fidget spinners” that are all the rage right now. Consisting of a ball bearing and some metal weights, these are the next popular gadgets for kids to yearn for.

Remember Pok√©mon? For those older folks, maybe hula hoops are a better comparison. Basically, it’s a toy just cheap enough to make it into almost every household, and leave those without one feeling alienated and alone. Isn’t childhood fun?

On one hand, many parents saw that fidget spinners range in price from seven to $16, heaved a sigh of relief that they don’t cost more, and just bought the darn things. But, on the other hand, the supposed low cost is part of what’s frustrating. They must cost very little to make but are priced just at the cusp of what most people would refuse to pay.

You might say, why is there always an old curmudgeon complaining about the cost of things? Let your kids be kids, buy them the toys, give them a fun childhood!

Old curmudgeon or not, some of us can’t help but look beyond childhood at the implications fads like these have on our kids.

For starters, it’s small and easily lost. Nothing grates on a frugal parent like spending $15 on something that might not see 24 hours of play. Depending on how many kids you have—because who expects their kids to share anything nowadays—you may be looking at a lot more money spent and potentially lost on the playground. This is especially true if they are treated as disposable and more are bought as others get lost or wrecked.

There’s no conclusive research proving these gadgets do anything to improve concentration—it’s hard to imagine how they aren’t considered a distraction. This makes them a gimmick, pure and simple. They’ve been marketed as a “learning device” when indeed they are not. In that sense, they’ve infiltrated our schools and homes using misinformation.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, trendy toys like fidget spinners give rise to a number of emotional hang-ups for kids and parents alike. Were you deprived of similar “cool” toys when you were young? If so, does this make you more or less likely to buy in to the fad? Does your child feel left out, less popular, or picked on because they don’t have what everyone else is playing with?
Because, really, all any of us wants is to feel like we belong. And your child may be begging you for a fidget spinner (or any other toy) not necessarily because they want the item but simply because they don’t want to stand out as being different or, in their minds, less than.

Choose to buy the fidget spinner, if that fits your financial situation. It’s true that they are cheap and seem to provide hours of entertainment, even if some of us can’t wrap our heads around the pastime. But don’t make these types of purchases thoughtlessly. 

Consider the labour and cost that goes into manufacturing them overseas. Consider that mindless spending and the acquisition of whatever is popular teaches your child to put impulse before common sense. We don’t know what economy they will face as adults. Is it wise to let these learning opportunities pass them by?

It’s not that we shouldn’t indulge children with occasional treats and surprises. Not even old curmudgeons want to rob kids of joyful childhood memories. But use this as an opportunity to have thoughtful conversations about spending.

Do you want it based on its own features, or mostly because everyone else has one? Are you willing to do extra chores in order to earn the money to buy it yourself? Do you promise to share your spinner with the kids that don’t have one, knowing as you do how it felt to be left out of the pack?

Frugal people don’t mean to bust your chops over every trivial purchase you might make for yourself or your kids. But we know that we’re making mortgage payments with the money that accumulates when you resist these petty fads.

We can’t help but have the vague sense that kids and adults alike often learn more from deprivation than from reward. Wanting and not getting builds character and encourages empathy, while constant gratification breeds only an appetite for more, and more.

Whether you buy the spinners or not, the next fad is just around the corner. Setting a precedent with your kids that every purchase, no matter how small and meaningless it seems, will be discussed and evaluated and saved for gives you more traction when they later expect a phone, a car, or their education to be handed to them.

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 and 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 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

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

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.