Alternatives to big cable companies in BC

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Please note this is not a sponsored post.

Not so long ago, in the Lower Mainland – and I am sure it applies to the rest of BC as well-, people basically had 2 options when it came to cable, Internet and home phone services: Shaw and Telus. If we were very lucky, we could add Bell to that rooster.

I once lived in a building that was only serviced by Shaw. For many years, I alternated between the 2 above-mentioned providers and my bill kept increasing, despite skimming services to a bare minimum.

The good news is that there are now alternative providers, particularly in the Lower Mainland. These companies will save you moolah.

VMEDIA

VMedia has definitely become a serious player in the telecommunication landscape. The company has grown tremendously over the last 2 years, and now services most of Canada. All their services are delivered via Internet -including home phone-. No contract and unlimited Internet data.

There are a few start-up costs (modem, adapter & TV box), but it is worth the future savings. I recently switched to VMedia and divided my bill by 2. I will write a review in a separate post.

UNISERVE

This company also provides all services at a much lower cost than Telus or Shaw. No contract and unlimited Internet data as well. You will need an Apple TV box.

NOVUS

This company also offers TV, Internet and home phone but their geographical scope is not very extended.

They primarily service Downtown Vancouver and a few select buildings in the Lower Mainland.

COAST CABLE

Another company offering “the triple”. However, they are pricier than VMedia, Novus and Uniserve even with a 2-year agreement. If you don’t sign a contract, your bill won’t be much lower than with Telus or Shaw.

If you are not interested in having “the triple”, or watch TV with a Roku or other streaming box, check these companies:

LIGHTSPEED

This company offers Internet and Home phone services. Their home phone price is unbeatable.

ALTIMA TELECOM

Same as above. Their home phone price is pretty cheap too.

TEK SAVVY

Same as above but their home phone price is higher.

FINAL WORD

Home phones are more and more becoming a thing of the past. With the advent of streaming boxes and VOIP systems, the glory days of cable TV are over.

There are no valid reasons for us, customers, to keep paying an exorbitant price for these 2 services.

It doesn’t seem like any of the big cable companies has taken this into consideration. It may very well be their downfall.

That being said, Canada still remains one of the most expansive countries for telecommunication services….

When Financial literacy is not enough

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A lot is being written about Financial literacy. In its basic definition, Financial literacy is is the possession of the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources.

There has been a lot of lamentations over the fact Financial literacy is not taught at schools. Although things are starting to change on that front, and I totally agree with the importance of this subject, I believe Financial literacy alone is not enough.

Let me elaborate a bit.

YOU NEED SOME MONEY TO APPLY FINANCIAL LITERACY CONCEPTS

Yep, that’s brutal and cynical but it is the (hard) truth.

You initially don’t need money to learn about Financial literacy, but you do in order to implement what you learned. For example, debt repayment and investing are 2 pillars of Financial literacy.

If you don’t have any -or enough-money to pay off your debt or to start investing, you won’t go very far with your personal Financial plan. The money conundrum needs to be sorted out first.

YOU NEED TO ADDRESS YOUR PERSONAL BELIEFS ABOUT MONEY

So you think your Financial decisions all come from a rational, logical, cold place? Think again!

A lot of our decisions come from deeply-ingrained beliefs we all have about money….as well as other aspects of our lives and ourselves. Some beliefs can be very limiting and hold us back.

Behavioral Finance is a relatively new subject field that studies the psychology behind financial decision-making. We all can learn a lot from this. Some common beliefs around money can trigger overconfidence, avoidance or inertia.

If you want different results with your money, look at the belief system behind what you are doing and how you are feeling. This can work in other aspects of your life, by the way.

The first step is to identify the belief and accept it. Then you can figure-out how to change it, if it is a possibility.

CONSISTENCY IS KEY

In order to be successful, you need to consistently apply the Financial literacy principles you learned as well as addressing your beliefs in an equally consistent manner.

This is where most people fall off the wagon. It can take time to change deeply-ingrained beliefs. Relapses are to be expected. If money is lacking, you may think it is pointless to apply these principles. Please, don’t do this!

Consistency and perseverance is what will yield results.

final word

I look at Financial literacy as being one leg of the “Financial chair”. If you are missing the 3 other ones -money, beliefs and consistency-, the chair will be, at best, shaky.

Financial literacy is a good start. But it simply is not enough.

 

10 Financial killers

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In my previous post, I shared how F.I.R.E. has an element of privilege to it. I also indicated that for most people, F.I.R.E. will remain a pipe dream.

There are very real obstacles to becoming financially independent and potentially retiring early. Here they are, in my personal order of importance:

FINANCIAL KILLERS # 1 & 2: STAGNANT WAGES AND INFLATION

5 years ago, Statistics Canada published a very interesting study on the evolution of wages in Canada between 1981 and 2011. The study shows, among other things, that hourly wages barely bulged during that period. A full-time worker would earn about $ 21 in 1981 and just under $ 24 in 2011. Not even 15% more.

There were also gaps depending on gender, age and education.

In the meantime, inflation during the same period rose by 149.16%. 

FINANCIAL KILLERS # 3 & 4: DISAPPEARANCE OF JOB SECURITY AND PENSION PLANS

Job hopping is the new normal these days. Most people will have an average of 15 to 20 jobs and 2 to 3 different careers. Sadly said so, most employees are seen as disposables. Job security is a thing of the past, just like companies’ pension plans.

Only 37% of Canadian employees have a pension plan today, primarily in the public sector. It used to be over 50% in the seventies. A company pension plan used to be an important pillar of retirement, making-up for paltry CPP amounts and lack of personal savings. Nowadays, workers need to save more for their retirement. It can be an arduous task when looking at Financial killers # 1 & 2.

FINANCIAL KILLER # 5: POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION COSTS

Canadian students graduate with an average of $ 27 000 in student-loan debt. Depending on the degree and university, this amount can be much higher. Starting adult life and career with such burden is crippling, even more so when looking at the previous 4 financial killers.

FINANCIAL KILLER # 6: UNHEALTHY OBSESSION WITH HOME-OWNERSHIP

Yes, I am aware I am a home owner, thank you very much. That being said, I did not think about buying until I was in my mid-thirties, and after doing thorough calculations. Nothing says you have to buy a property right after graduation or after getting married!

In order to buy, you need to save for both a minimum down-payment and the closing costs. You also need to stay put for at least 5 years, if you want to gain equity and recover from the closing costs you paid.

FINANCIAL KILLER # 7: CAR AND COMMUTING COSTS

A subcompact car will cost on average $ 10 000 per year. This includes car payment, insurance, gas, maintenance and tolls. Since more people have to move to suburbia to find affordable housing and easily need 2 cars per household, these costs can only go higher.

FINANCIAL KILLER # 8: STAGGERING DAYCARE COSTS

If you chose to have children, it is very likely you will have to go back to work, despite the Federal government paid maternity leave and the Canada Child Benefit program.

This is not always a question of personal choice. It is merely based on at least the 5 first Financial killers.

A spot for an infant in a licensed daycare in Vancouver costs close to $ 1 300/month. For a toddler, you are looking at just over $ 1 000.  Prices in other big Canadian cities are similar, with the exception of Montreal. The Quebec government has its own childcare program and costs are way lower.

FINANCIAL KILLER # 9: CONSUMER-DEBT, AVOCADO TOASTS AND LATTES

A lot of people are still trying to keep-up with the Joneses, by constantly upgrading to bigger and shinier things.

That being said, a lot of people are also using credit cards to make ends meet, due to the above financial killers.

FINANCIAL KILLER # 10: LACK OF FINANCIAL LITERACY

Unfortunately, we are not taught at school that we need to save for retirement or for emergencies. We are also not taught how to best do these things. We are not taught how interests on credit cards or loans is calculated. We are not taught about management fees.

This doesn’t help, but it is not what sends someone to a trustee in bankruptcy, contrary to popular belief.

 

 

F.I.R.E. explained and debunked

Image result for financial independence retire early

 

F.I.R.E. is a very popular acronym is the Personal Finance blogosphere. It stands for Financially Independent Retire Early. Over the years, this concept has become more and more appealing, and no wonder. With major changes in the workplace, such as stagnant wages, the disappearence of pension plans and a higher unemployment rate, a growing number of people aspires to quit the grind….myself included.

F.I.R.E. IS NOT A GET-RICH-QUICKLY SCHEME

Unfortunately, it will take some time before anyone is in a position of pulling the plug on their dreaded job, as a sufficient amount of money needs to be saved first.

Said amount will require thorough calculations first. Conventional wisdom says it should be 1 million or 25 times your yearly expenses. I say conventional wisdom needs to be challenged! I will save this for another post.

In order to save for the magic number, you need to make money, there is simply no way around this!

F.I.R.E. HAS AN ELEMENT OF PRIVILEGE IN IT

When you take a look at F.I.R.E. bloggers, most of them were making a decent income – well into the 6 figures, combined or not- before becoming financially independent (F.I.) . Some of them don’t have children or had them long after being F.I. Others chose not to buy properties or graduated with no student debt or had no debt at all.

The above definitely gives a head-start to anyone choosing F.I.R.E. It doesn’t mean you can’t achieve F.I.R.E. if the above-mentioned doesn’t apply to you. However, it may be more challenging and take longer.

The harsh truth is that F.I.R.E. will remain a dream for a lot of people.

F.I.R.E. HAS AN ELEMENT OF FRUGALITY IN IT

In order to achieve F.I.R.E., you not only need to earn money, but also to cut down on expenses.

By doing so, you may realize you need less than you initially thought to live on.

Being frugal can be borderline with being cheap at times.

Frugality is not for everyone either. That being said, not being frugal does not prevent anyone from reaching F.I.R.E. either. It will just take longer.

F.I.R.E. IS MORE ABOUT FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE THAN EARLY RETIREMENT

A lot of people achieving Financial Independence actually do not retire or stop working. They choose to pursue different career paths instead, the most popular being becoming a writer and/or a blogger.

This is where the problem lies, in my not-so humble opinion. A lot of people blogs about retiring early and never working again, when they are actually still earning income instead of drawing from their savings!

The core concept is that F.I.R.E. gives you the ability to choose when and where to work as well as what to work on. Money is no longer part of the equation. This is what I personally find really attractive.

FINAL WORDS

I would love to reach Financial Independence sooner than later. That being said, I don’t know if it is a possibility right now, and it is OK. I fully acknowledge my economic reality and the limitations of the F.I.R.E. concept.

I would also caution anyone not to take at face-value anything read on the Internet from people claiming to be F.I.R.E. We never have the “full picture” of their situations. We don’t have access to their bank accounts, investment portfolio or tax returns. We can never be sure where their income comes from.

 

 

The importance of the emergency fund

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I have heard a lot of names for the Emergency fund: Back-up fund, F-U fund, Opportunity fund, Rainy-Day fund…whatever you want to call it, it is just semantics.

The purpose of said funds is the same: to have some cash in hand when s**t happens. And yes, s**t will occasionally happen, no matter how much we pretend it won’t.

I have written about having an emergency fund before. My views on this matter haven’t changed. With this post, I want to go from theory – i.e. having an emergency fund- to practice -i.e. dealing with an emergency-.

ENTER MY DRIVING WOES

It all started in 2014. That year, I was involved in a minor collision for which I was found 100% responsible. I had to pay a deductible when getting my car fixed. At the time it was $300, no big deal for my wallet.

In British Columbia, it is possible for the at-fault driver to reimburse the insurer for the repair costs to both vehicles, provided there is no injury claim. Doing so also “protects” the insurance premiums of the at-fault driver from increasing.

In my case, the other driver claimed injuries so I could not do this and was assessed a premium surchage over a 3-year period. In any case, I wouldn’t have been able to repay , as I simply didn’t have the extra money back then.

DRIVING WOES-TAKE 2

Fast forward to 2017, I hadn’t had any at-fault accident since then, when I was involved in another minor fender-bender for which I was also found 100% responsible!

My deductible was $ 500 this time, again no big deal for my wallet. However, because of the 2014 accident, I was looking at a hefty premium surchage. The only way for me to avoid this was to pay for the repair costs on both vehicles, AND that the other driver did not claim injuries.

THE CASE FOR THE EMERGENCY FUND

I was extremely lucky that the other driver did not sustain injuries. I was also lucky the collision was minor. The total extra costs came at just over $ 2 800.00, which I was able to repay and this is what I actually did.

All in all, the total amount I forked up-front for my driving mishaps was $ 3 600.00. The upcoming surchage I was looking at was 3 times that amount!

I might be Captain Obvious here, but I am glad  my emergency fund was here to get me out of the hole I had dug for myself! If I hadn’t had one, it would have cost me an extra  $10 000, on top of the regular premiums. That would have been a big chunk of dough!

CONCLUSION

I have yet to hear anyone -including myself- wishing they didn’t have an emergency fund when s**t hit the fan.

Much has been written and said about the good, old emergency fund. There is no question pretty much anyone needs one, including those with a hefty saving rate and those financially independent. A portion of assets should be designated as emergency fund.

Whether one needs $ 10 000, 3 or 6 months of expenses and whether said monies should be held in a plain savings account are discussions for another post.

In the meantime, and in light of these car events, I may need to devote some money for driving lessons….and that is also a discussion for another post!

Time-weighted vs. Money-weighted rate of return

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With the implementation of CRM2, Canadian banks, investments brokers, mutual funds dealers and other financial entities must disclose the method used to calculate the rate of return of a portfolio or investments like an ETF or a mutual fund.

There are 2 methods used: time-weighted and money-weighted. Both are valid and accepted. Let’s take a look at the 2 approaches.

there is only one big difference between the 2

The time-weighted method does not take into consideration any contribution or withdrawal (cash flows) made to a portfolio. It does not take into account any dividend or interest received either.

The money-weighted method, on the other hand, does take cash flows into consideration, including dividends and interests.

the time-weighted method works best for product comparison

In the time-weighted method, all periods’returns have the same weight, regardless of cash movements. For example, if the return for period 1 is 10%, and the return for period 2 is  -8%, the return would always be 1.2%.

This method works very well to compare products such as mutual funds or ETFs. The majority, if not all, of fund managers uses this method. it is also easier for them, as they have no control on cash flows.

the money-weighted return works best at individual level

The money weighted method, as indicated above, takes cash movements into consideration to calculate return.

It  finds the interest rate or rate of return that would have to have been paid for the investor to obtain the actual ending value, given the beginning value and the deposits and withdrawals that occurred during the period.

The result is way more precise for investors, and can help them understand why they might be loosing money.

The money-weighted return will most likely be a different than the time-weighted return.

conclusion

For most investors, regardless of how experienced they are, the money-weighted return is the best method. It gives a more clear picture of how their portfolio is actually performing .

 

The higher tax-bracket myth

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Very often, I hear people complaining about paying more taxes as a result of working overtime, taking a second job or receiving a bonus.

A very common sentence is: “working overtime puts me in a higher-tax bracket, so it may not be worth it”.

there is no such thing as “being in a higher tax-bracket”

People claiming this don’t understand how the Canadian tax system works. I don’t blame them. Taxation is a very boring matter.

That being said, I believe that understanding a few tax basics can help anyone make better financial decisions.

canada has a progressive tax system

Basically, it means that people will pay more taxes as they earn more money….but in a progressive manner or a tiered-manner. Here are the federal tax rates at the time of writing:

  • 15% on the first $45,916 of taxable income
  • 20.5% up to $91,831 
  • 26% to $142,353 
  • 29% up to $202,800 
  • 33% of taxable income over $202,800

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say an employee earns $ 45 000 gross per year. In refering to the above tax rates, our employee will be taxed at 15%.

Now, let’s say that our employee works overtime during the year, and earns an extra $ 5 000. Their gross income is now $50 000. In refering once again to the above rates, our employee will now pay 20.5%, right? WRONG! 

This is not how a progressive tax system works.

Our employee will actually pay taxes of 15% on $ 45 916 and 20.5% on the remaining $ 4 084.

This is where most people are confused. They think that their entire income will be subject to a higher tax rate, when it is not the case.

you can work overtime

As demonstrated above, working overtime will not result in a massive tax bill. Keep in mind you may be eligible for additional tax credits when filing your return.

To combine finances or not?

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When two people are in a committed relationship, the question of moving-in together comes-up at some point. This question actually triggers a series of other questions such as how to share household chores and if all the belongings are going to fit-in in the new place.

However, there are a couple of very important questions that should not be overlooked: how are we going to pay for the bills and are we going to combine finances?

Long before you move-in, you should have had “the money talk”, as a couple. There are crucial details that partners need to know about one another, such as income and debts, as well as goals.

Once you have the basics down, it is time to take your conversation to the next level.

Option 1: partial combination; 1 joint checking-account, 1 joint savings-account

A joint checking-account is used to pay for common expenses like rent, utilities and groceries. More categories can be added, depending on your situation. If you are a one-car household, then car expenses would also be considered as a joint expense.

If you have similar incomes -or close enough-, you can both contribute 50% to the account. If there is a large disparity between your incomes, use the percentage method instead.

Add your respective monthly net incomes. Divide your individual net income by the combined income and multiply by 100. Always use your net income.

For example, if your net combined monthly income is $ 10 000 and one partner earns $ 2 500, their share is 25%.

It is also a good idea to have a 3-month emergency fund for the shared expenses.

Option 2: almost complete combination

With this option, all the money is deposited in a joint-account and a portion is transferred to each partner’s individual accounts.

All the bills are paid from the joint-account, regardless of their nature. The individual accounts work like an allowance.

The most challenging part of this approach is to decide what amount should be transferred to the individual accounts!

Option 3: complete combination

This approach is definitely the most transparent one. When both partners are on the same page financially, it is also the best.

Communication is key. It is best for both partners to sit down and discuss how to consolidate all their accounts, as well as how to manage them on a day-to-day basis. Both need to be actively involved.

As years go by and children come into the picture, the line between “yours, mine and ours” becomes more and more blurry.

Option 4: complete separation

In this scenario, the couple does not combine finances at all and keeps everything separate. I personally find this method counter-productive. Some household expenses are higher than other ones, and it can be tricky to decide who pays for them. It can also be an hindrance to saving goals or paying-off debt.

You may want to revisit why you are not considering combining finances to some extent. Maybe you have done this in a previous relationship and it was a disaster? Maybe you don’t trust your partner? Maybe your partner has an opposite financial style?

Again, communication is key here. Money is a huge stressor for couples and the leading cause of divorces.

Final word

Deciding to combine finances -or not- is a very personal decision. What will work for a couple may not work for another. It is important to find the system that works for both your partner and you. Don’t worry about what outside people think.

My personal tips to save money

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At the Money Savvy Blog, we regularly receive questions on “how to save money”.

Here are my own personal tips to do so. They may surprise you!

DON’T BUY OR RENT TOO MUCH HOUSE

You can save hundreds of dollars each month by doing so. Everything is negotiable, and that includes both rent and mortgage. Not all rents are the same amount. It may be cheaper to move to a different neighbourhood.

Same goes for home prices. Despite being in a raising-rate environment, you can still find low-rate mortgages. It is also important to buy the right amount of space for your needs. Unless you plan on having 10 children, you most likely don’t need a 10-bedroom mansion.

And because a lender qualified you for $ 500 000, does not mean you have to buy a $ 500 000 property! You actually would be better off buying a $ 250 000 one.

DON’T BUY OR LEASE TOO MUCH CAR

A car is a depreciating asset. It starts loosing value the minute it leaves the dealership. I never understand why people would spend thousands and thousands of dollars to buy such item.

And I shake my head when I hear people calling their cars “an investment”….

CAA has a very nifty little tool to estimate car costs. This depreciating asset also happens to cost a lot of money to maintain!

For example, a compact or subcompact car will cost around $ 9 000/year in British Columbia. A pick-up truck will cost around $ 14 000, and an “executive” vehicle (BMW, Audi) will cost around $19 000.

You will see a lot of the latter two in the Lower Mainland….Unless you work in a farm, in forestry or image is a crucial component of your income, you don’t need these types of car.

If you ditched the pick-up truck for a compact car, you will save $ 5 000, right off the bat.

If you are in a multiple-car household, try to see if you could live on 1 or 2 cars, instead of 2 or 3. You will save even more money!

SHOP AROUND

In this day and age, comparing costs of products and services has never been so easy. Unfortunately, most companies also do not reward loyalty anymore. It is always worth obtaining several quotes before purchasing, particularly on products like insurance, cable, cell phone or services like home repairs.

You could save big time. Case in point with my own home insurance: my former provider, with whom I had been for several years, kept increasing my rates; this despite me never filing a claim. I shopped around and switched to my current provider for half the price.

COOK MORE OFTEN

Much has been said about the latte factor and the avocado toast. While I agree that occasionally indulging in these will not put you in financial jeopardy, I believe it is problematic when indulgences become a daily, new necessity.

On the very first post I wrote on this blog, I had estimated someone eating 3 meals out 5 days a week would spend about $10 000 per year.

You can slash that amount in 2 by cooking and eating at home more often. You would still be able to eat out from time to time, just not on a daily basis.

FINAL WORD

By cutting expenses on big-ticket items like housing, transportation and food, you can save 10 to 20K per year fairly quickly and easily.

In comparison, how much do you think it would take to save the same amount of money on your own, solely relying on your income?