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Showing posts with label Money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Money. Show all posts

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Support a local store in your community and support people with mental illness

Today I made time to visit a local second hand store that I've been meaning to get to before I finished the book I was reading. And since I finished my book last night, today was the day.

The second hand store has soft cover novels for 25 cents each. Every time I scan the shelves I see books I've donated. Today I found 3 to bring home and when I paid I told the ladies that since I treat their shop like a library, I'd likely be bringing these back when I finished.

This particular store employs people with mental illness. It's a small shop with limited wall and floor space but they display very nicely a variety of clothes, kitchen items, bedding, knickknacks, etc. and in the back they have their book section with a few chairs to encourage lingering or for those who want to try on some shoes. The staff are warm and welcoming and quickly assisted by one supervisor if they happen to have difficulty helping a customer.

Chances are good there is a similar store in your community. You may have to search it out; places like this spend their donations and sales revenue supporting people with mental illness and not on things like advertising. If and when you have time, wander into some second hand shops you haven't visited before. Take your donations with you; clothes the kids have outgrown, books you've finished, sweaters you don't like any more. If you spend a few minutes looking around, chances are good you'll find some new treasures to take home. And the money you leave behind may end up helping someone in ways you didn't expect. 

Monday, 14 March 2011

Charitable donations. Who gets my money

First of all, regardless of who makes the charitable donation, apply the tax receipts against the person in your household with the largest income. For example, if the receipts are in your name but your spouse has the larger income, your spouse would claim the charitable donation deduction to reduce their taxable income.

Here ends my income tax advice.

I have 3 charities that I support. The first is the school that my boys attend. Last year when my oldest was in Grade 1 he would come home and talk endlessly about the PASS Room where he would go each recess to sign out a shovel or some other play equipment. He LOVED the PASS Room. I made some enquiries and learned that the PASS Room was actually a safe haven where children with behavioural issues could go during the day to calm down if they were having difficulty coping in the classroom. These children do not have a diagnosis, they are just kids who are not valued by their parents and their behaviour and social development reflects this. The PASS Room was created by the school to address behaviour problems and is supervised by 2 Special Ed qualified teachers. It has desks and cubicles so students who have been removed from their classroom can sit quietly without distraction and complete their work. They also stock healthy snacks for children who are sent to school with little or no food. I donate to the PASS Room at the beginning of each school year and ask that my funds be used to buy books, play equipment, food or anything the children may need.

My church receives a monthly donation. The congregation is small but mighty in it's community outreach. It runs 3 breakfast clubs in 3 large primary schools where 100s of children who would not have breakfast otherwise benefit from a healthy meal served by church volunteers. The Visitation Committee visits shut-ins or people who are too ill to attend church and twice a year they organize a special luncheon at the church and haul everyone in for socializing, a service and a hot meal. Other committees provide support to people in hospital or families in difficult circumstances. When my sister died another committee whipped up sandwiches and had the hall decked out for everyone who attended her service - we didn't have to do a thing. The church committees seem endless and when I think about community impact return for my buck, the men and women who steer these committees stretch my dollars like only church people can.

The third organization I support is Special Olympics - Aurora, Ontario. I wanted to find an organization close to home that worked with people with Down Syndrome who will forever hold a special place in my heart due to my incredible years with my sister. Last year I attended their annual general meeting and I was overwhelmingly impressed by the volunteers, their activities and their community involvement. I know my funds go directly to the athletes and that's very rewarding and reassuring to me.

Chances are good you and everyone you know donates to charity. Some people with a lot of money may donate to the most popular organizations because their donation is more about easing their conscience and getting the tax write off than following the impact of their dollars. But for those of us with only a little extra to spread around, taking a few minutes to shop for a charity that will get the most out of our money is an exercise worth doing. After all, helping as many people as possible should be the priority rather than sending in our hard earned bucks to go toward inflated salaries for executives and catered Christmas parties for staff.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Charitable donations. Make your money count

The vast majority of us donate a portion of our hard-earned money to charity. But unlike sending your taxes off to the government and hearing later that it was used illegally for a partisan advertising campaign, you can pick and choose your charity and thereby have some control over how your donation is spent.

My husband used to support a well-know children's hospital. That was until he heard that the CEO of the hospital was paid a bonus of $500,000 last year on top of his regular salary of $400,000+. When I was in graduate school, we were told the operating budget of the Canadian Cancer Society was larger than the federal cancer research budget. Somehow I think the Canadian Cancer Society will persevere without my $50.

A few years ago a friend of mine told me that her newly retired father thought he might do some volunteer work for The United Way. One of his friends was already involved in the organization and invited him to a lunch meeting. My friend's father went and when the meeting was called to order, all the executives started taking their lunches out of their briefcases. He had not taken his lunch, thinking that sandwiches would be provided but nope, only some coffee and no styrofoam cups either because everyone had their own mugs. Now that's an organization after my own heart. No spending my hard-earned harness dollars on catered lunches.

I don't have much cash to spread around but I feel very strongly that my business is God's work and therefore some of my earnings will always support my charities of choice. Stay tuned to hear more about them.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Financial planning starts with paying yourself regularly

I was working at my desk the other day with the radio on and my jaw almost hit my sewing machine. The interviewer was talking with a financial expert about RRSPs and Tax Free Savings Accounts. The shocker for me was that the TFSAs were introduced in 2009 but it seems like it was yesterday. With the maximum contribution per year at $5,000, your TFSA could be sitting at $15,000 right now. And that's without any financial gains in the interim. The expert quoted one of her clients who had chosen rather well with some stocks and had a current balance of $45,000 in his TFSA. No capital gains on that baby either.

That 3 minute radio interview got me looking pretty closely at my own financial planning and more specifically at my TFSA. Suffice to say it's a far cry from $15,000 but a more honest admission would be that I have put very little effort into taking advantage of the TFSAs. It's been months and months since I've made a contribution.

The thing about the TFSAs is you can hold anything in there. Cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, treasury bills, guaranteed investment certificates, you name it. And those investments will grow tax free. Your annual contribution is capped at $5,000 per year so you could open 5 TFSAs at 5 different banks and put $1,000 in each if you wanted but since this would limit your buying power, it doesn't seem like a smart idea.

The thing about saving money is that a lot is better than a little and a little is better than nothing. This last part I'd forgotten. I always have a little but somehow it wouldn't feel worthwhile to actually put that little away someplace separate. That's going to change starting this month.

So as a stranger in your computer and someone you can delete or shut down or Unlike, let me risk asking you some politically incorrect questions about your own financial savings:
  • if you're in Canada, have you opened a Tax Free Savings Account for yourself? If not, I urge you to talk to your bank this week and tell them to get the forms ready for you. Tell them you want a trading account. Better to be set up at the beginning in case you want to purchase mutual funds or ishares down the road.
  • do you invoice yourself each month? I don't but I'm going to start. It might only be $50 but as I say, a little is better than nothing and nothing is what I'm doing now. Billing yourself a certain amount each month is extremely effective. Yes it's another bill and yes you're going to pay it. It's not optional. Treat it like your phone bill or your internet. It has to be paid to keep you and everyone else in the house happy. 
  • are your savings off limits? If you do have some egg money, do you view it truly as savings for your future or do you view it as funds you can access when there's an extra expense? Savings for yourself should be completely and entirely off limits to you and everyone else. No dipping. No withdrawing. When you're 70, you'll be grateful for your vigilence.
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today. Maintaining financial independence as we age is surely what all of us desire and the smart ones among us likely started years ago. But the rest of us will start today.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements. How much is too much?

If you stroll down the isle at the local drug store past all the vitamins, minerals and supplements for sale you'd think there were no nutrients at all in the foods we eat. And whether it's successful marketing on their part or guilt on our part, chances are good that some of those bottles are sitting on our breakfast tables right now. Not only that, but after consuming those pills we have florescent pee for the rest of the day as most of those vitamins pass right through our systems.

Recently I heard a commentary on the radio by a doctor who said that taking a multivitamin probably isn't necessary if you're someone who doesn't have an immuno-compromised condition. But if it makes you feel better (as in The Placebo Effect) then there's no harm in doing so.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements are not cheap, even when you buy them on sale. Chances are good there's between $60 and $80 worth of pills keeping you company each morning when you sit down for breakfast. Are all of them necessary? Are any of them there for the placebo effect only? Are you using any of them as a substitute for real food; "I had my multivitamin so I can eat this bag of chips"?

In the area of health and food, I'll never cut corners. But given the amount of vitamins that pass through my  system unabsorbed when I take these pills, I'm now looking at my collection of bottles with a critical eye.

What will stay?  

Vitamin D, 1000 IUs. Research that was out last year indicated that we need to bump up our intake from previous levels of 250 IUs to maintain strong bones and teeth. And since some of us in these Canadian climes aren't getting that amount of vitamin D naturally from sunlight throughout the year, I'll keep my little white pills.

Glucosamine, 500mg, shellfish free. When I was running 100+km/wk a friend of mine suggested glucosamine to help maintain the integrity of my joints. Even when I was doing higher mileage for extended periods of time, I remained injury free. I can't attribute that definitively to the glucosamine but it's got such a great reputation with the arthritis crowd that I'm hedging my bets it will help me maintain healthy joints as I age.

Calcium Carbonate, 500mg.This will remain for a couple of reasons: osteoporosis is a nasty disease and whatever steps we can take to prevent it's arrival, so much the better. Even if the calcium from this pill is only partially absorbed, a little is better than nothing. Second reason; sources of calcium that I enjoyed so much in the past (yogurt, cheese, ice cream, frozen yogurt) have become migraine triggers so it's much more difficult for me to obtain a good amount of calcium naturally.

What will go?

Multivitamin. I'm not immuno-compromised and I will admit I sometimes use the multivitamin as a crutch. Ok, I'll say it. I don't always eat properly.

B100 Complex Time Release. This was an expensive bottle of pills that I bought as a trial to see if it would make a difference in my energy levels. We don't eat a lot of meat so it makes sense that we could be low in our vitamin B department. But time is up with this time release product because for me personally, it's had no effect.

Our bodies were designed to absorb what they need from the food that we eat. Lest we forget our primary source of vitamins and minerals, I'm opting to spend less time starting at the bottles in the drug store and more time staring at the fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. And rather than researching the amounts of nutrients in 3 different types of lettuce, I'll keep to the rule that keeps it simple for all of us:

Eat foods of different colour.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Don't let bank fees drain your account

When I was in graduate school, one of our profs told us "The banks have no incentive to be efficient. As long as they can pass their expenses on to the customer in terms of fees, there is no need for them to change their practices."

Graduate school was more than a few years ago for me but this adage still seems true. Yesterday I received a pamphlet in the mail outlining the new fees associated with different accounts at my bank. My chequing account will be effected and as of April 1, there will be a $2 fee for keeping a bank book and a minimum balance of $1500 must be in the account to waive the transaction fees ($0.65 each).

You gotta love the banks. It's amazing I managed to read these tiny changes listed in their little pamphlet, written in a font of 2 with black ink on a grey background. A magnifying glass should have been included in the envelope.

I've ALWAYS avoided paying bank fees. They make enough off my money through their investments, I begrudge giving them more if I can help it. Other than purchasing my cheques, I always maintain the minimum balance required in my chequing account to avoid transaction fees. The minimum balance used to be $1000 so I'd always treat this as my $0. I'd maintain a float of whatever I needed above the $1000 to cover my monthly expenses. Transaction fees can add up! At $0.65 each and an average of 8 transactions per month, that's over $60 a year you can save just by keeping a float above their minimum balance. And don't fall below that minimum balance. If you go below by 1 penny for 30 seconds any time during the month, you'll be charged a fee for every transaction executed that month. 

I also go paperless. Doing good for the environment is incentive enough so sign onto your bank account and look under account settings to switch to paperless if you haven't already. It will stop the flood of monthly statements that you put directly into recycling anyway. And it will avoid any charges the bank may inflict for having a bank book. What's $2 you say? Well, if you saw $2 on the sidewalk, would you pick it up? So I guess it's worth saving then.

If you haven't done so already, have a look at your bank statements and see if you've been dinged any fees lately. How much have you paid in bank fees over the past 6 months? Add them up. Is there something else you'd have rather done with that money or does paying it to your bank give you a warm and fuzzy feeling?

With a little planning on your part you can keep a bit more of your money in your bank account where it belongs. I'm sure the banks will increase their fees to compensate. 

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Going cheap with your kids is a good idea. But not all the time

Providing for children is expensive. From before they arrive until long after they've left, it seems an endless flow of money is directed their way.

This is why figuring out ways to save money when raising kids has become an industry of it's own. There is a plethora of websites and blogs and online stores with deals and coupons and tips on what you should do and where you should shop and cost-cutting measures you should take. All with the attractive goal of saving you money.

I've been a big money-saver myself. I have a lovely friend with older boys who passes on clothes her own kids have outgrown. Some of the things she gives me are brand new (really) and some are destined for the rag bag. Like my own kids, her's have their favourites so some items are worn until they don't fit any more while others remain in the drawer until they don't fit any more. What my own kids don't like or outgrow goes off to the local Value Village.

Going cheap on clothes makes sense on a whole bunch of levels. They outgrow things so quickly it's usually just one season of wear on those shorts and t-shirts, winter coats and snow pants. A few years ago I found a high-end winter coat at Value Village that lasted my oldest son one winter and my younger son 2 winters. When I donated it back to Value Village it was still in wonderful shape. But that's quality for you.

One's enthusiasm to go cheap with the kids can fall off the rails though, when we try to apply it to other areas like food or safety. Feeding those growing bodies with cheap food of little nutritional value has an extremely high health cost in the end. 

But what about going cheap with a safety harness when so many are available at such great prices? 

Believe it or not, I'm in the middle on this one. Part of me wants to call you crazy if you even consider buying any harness other than mine but the reality is those cheap harnesses do have their place. If you're going to use it only a few times, I mean literally a few times, then cheap is good. Cheap should be fine. After all, it's only for that one trip or that one outing or that one visit to the grandparents. It's new from the box so you certainly shouldn't have any issues with it for the few times it'll be used.

But if you think there is even a remote possibility that you'll be using that safety harness more than a few times as your child grows from 18 months to 3 1/2 years of age, in my opinion it's better to go with quality. And when it comes to quality you get what you pay for. Don't go cheap. Get something that will pay for itself in peace of mind alone. Get something you can trust not to come apart during the years you'll be using it. Get something that's say made by me.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Thinking of buying a Special Needs stroller to contain your child? My Child-to-Adult Harness may fit the bill instead

This stroller costs $1,500+ USD
More than a few of my customers have told me that when their older child has become too much for them to manage, their doctor has recommended they purchase a special needs stroller, or push chair, to strap their child into so they can once again safely leave the house. 

These strollers don't come cheap. All of them cost more than my first car. If your child can't walk and a push chair is a better option than a wheelchair, then such an investment makes sense. You'll get years of use from it and your child will love it. 

But if your child can walk, I can't help but think that a special needs stroller is quite the luxury ride. 

A couple of other things come to mind besides the expense of a special needs push chair
  • Your child is accustomed to walking. How will they adapt to being tied to their new chair? Is this type of restraint new to them? Will it be accepted?
  • Will it take more than one person to get your child seated in the stroller and secured to the harness? Will you be able to cope on your own or will it take 2 people to get your child secured?
  • The seatbelts and harness that are stitched to the stroller will fasten at the front of your child well within their reach. Will your child undo the buckles so they can get out of the stroller to walk?
  • How will the use of the stroller impact the amount of exercise your child is getting? Safety first of course but will this mean your child no longer has the option to walk? Or only limited opportunity to walk? If they are accustomed to walking (or running!) most of the time, and now have to ride, will they have other opportunities to get exercise?
If you are considering a special needs stroller or push chair for your ambulatory child, I beg you to have a look at my Child-to-Adult Harnesses before you make your purchase. Maybe a walking harness is all you need to keep your loved one close at hand. My harnesses are:
  • made to fit your child but adjustable to last for years
  • buckle at your child's back. Replace the buckles with locks to increase security
  • the harness + any accessories + shipping and taxes (if any) would be less than $200
Two years ago I had a customer who had spent a huge amount of money on a second hand special needs stroller for her teenage daughter. Obviously her daughter could get out of it in seconds because all the buckles were at the front. Because of this problem she went looking for a way to keep her daughter seated. She found me and ordered one of my harnesses plus a chair strap. But once she had my harness, her daughter was able to safely walk again and the stroller wasn't used!

No one gets it right the first time all the time but if you do your research and mull things over, it usually pays off. Maybe even to the tune of $1300 in savings.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Money Matters: Going for quality is always a smart move

You've likely received your January credit card bill in the mail by now with it's long list of December purchases of food and gifts for the holiday season. 

The timing can never be good for bills but I always find January to be particularly difficult. Maybe because it's followed so closely by the end of March when we pay taxes that weren't deducted at source. Oh, and if you have any spare cash lying around it would be a good idea to make that RRSP contribution. And now that the new year has started, I'm free to put another $5,000 into my Tax Free Savings Account if I happen to have it stuffed in the mattress.

If money isn't already on your mind most of the time, it's likely front and centre right now. And if you don't have much of it, it's critical to be smart with the little you have.

This past weekend we went shopping for a new couch for our livingroom. The old one didn't owe us anything after 20+ years with my parents, my sister, then us. The first place we went to had a very nice couch but it was a bit outside our price range. The second place had a couch we liked but was also more than we wanted to pay. After some back and forth with the salesman, the price came down. And down. And down. Then the 5 year warranty was added, no extra charge. 

I asked for a few minutes to think things over and was sitting alone on the couch when I noticed the couch in front of me had a big rip in the back. Oh my gosh, was that the same manufacturer? I hopped up to check, couldn't see a label but it was a similar style and fabric so I was guessing yes. Then I had a closer look at the couch we were considering buying. Oh oh. I called over my husband and pointed out all the open seams, the way the legs were attached, my goodness it was not well made. Now it was clear why the price had plummeted more than $300 in less than 5 minutes of conversation.

We went back to Stop #1 to have a closer look at the first couch. Every seam was sealed. The quality far surpassed the other one, there was no comparing the two. So we had a re-think. We knew that whatever we bought was going to last us for a very long time and sure this one was more expensive but in the long run, it certainly looked like it would go the distance.

Sold. We opted for quality because I still believe you get what you pay for. So stay tuned. In 20 years I'll let you know if our new couch is still holding up.