Melcar Group

Budget Guru

Mother’s Day on a budget

 As Mothers day approaches and you are trying to figure out that perfect gift, it is important to keep your budget in mind. I truly believe that a gift that is picked with meaning and heart is far better than an expensive item that has no true meaning.

Below are some gift ideas that will allow you to spoil your mother while staying within your budget.

“Day” at the Spa:
Instead of sending your mother to the spa for the day, why not have her get one specialized treatment done. For example; just a facial or just a pedicure, something that she really wants. Also, why not support the local start-up spa that will generally have lower prices. It is important to remember the small businesses that are trying to operate within this tough time.
Average cost: $30-50

Surprise get together:
A perfect gift for your mother may be planning a surprise family get together. This is a really nice gesture and will be a memorable gift for the entire family to remember. Sometimes we all lose sight of what is really important in life, and some people believe that material gifts are more accepted. The only expenses for this gift are the food, drinks, and accessories.
Average cost: $ 30-50

Coffee/Movie:
Personally, I am not a huge movie fan however some people really enjoy sitting back and watching a movie. This could be a great opportunity to catch up and share a movie with your mother.
Average cost: $30-40

 

3813l_classic-red-roses-bouquetFlowers with a twist:
Give mom beautiful hand picked flowers from your own garden. Some people may find this really tacky, however it allows you to customize every aspect and pick her favourite flowers and colours.
Average cost:$5

 

 

Homemade gift basket:
Although a really nice gift, gift baskets purchased from a store/online can be really expensive. Why not create your own gift basket and pick items that your mom will love. Some ideas for homemade gift baskets are: books, teas, coffees, flower seedlings, photo albums, knitting material, creams, and beauty products. Anything is possible, and it allows you to customize every aspect from the actual product to the tissue paper used.
Average cost: $30-50

Maid for the Day:
Generally, mothers are constantly cleaning the homes, making sure everything is organized, structured, vacuumed etc. So why not give mom a break and you be the maid for the day.
Average Cost: $0

Other Mothers Day items:
Hand made jewelry
Family Portrait
Scrapbook
Homemade Dinner
Homemade CD with her favourite music
Collection of her favourite recipes

There is no price for a Mother’s love, however it a much nicer gesture to show your Mother she is appreciated than buying a gift that only has financial value.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Savings, Social Situations | | Leave a comment

Zero Dollar Days

Do you ever sit down and analyze which days you spend the most money? What about the days when you spend no money at all? Of course this does not include electricity, phone, cable, internet, water, etc. Zero Dollar days, in my opinion, refers to days where you don’t spend any actual money for goods.

Sometimes we just buy things for the sake of buying “stuff”, or to fill a void. If you pay close attention to your spending habits, you will most likely cut out a lot of your impulse spending. Personally, I try to have at least 8 zero dollar days per month.  Below you will find my zero dollar days for the month of March; you will notice that Saturday is the day when I spend money consistently, compared to Monday’s when I barely spend any money.

march_2009_blank_calendar_thumb

 

Try keeping track of your monthly zero dollar day, it may surprise you!

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Personal Financial Theory's, Savings | Leave a comment

Getting control of your Finances

Too many people live with an unknown certainty of what their financial future will hold, while continuing to purchase items using credit or loans (essentially money they don’t even have). Sometimes it may feel like there is no hope at the end, or that the financial trouble will never be cleared, but having control is the first step to realizing your situation and making a positive change.

Personally, I feel that the very first step to making change (beyond recognizing there is a problem) is determining what your current situation is. Make a list of your current assets (whether it is cash, property, or any other value yielding item) along with your liabilities (debt, loans, car payments, etc). I find that writing this stuff down either on paper or electronically allows you to visually see where you are financially. Also, this will allow you to create a starting point, and to look back within 3-4 months to see where progress has been made. Once that is completed, it is important to create goals, both long term and short term. Short term goals allow you to continuously reach a goal, which provides self satisfaction regularly. Long term goals, motivate you to work towards something and to stay on track to reach that goal. Once you are aware of your situation, and have a goal in mind, you have to create a budget that you can maintain. The budget, in my opinion, is one of the most essential steps and processes that allow you to reach your goals. Be sure to include debt repayments, savings, and emergency funds payments into your budget also keep in mind money for food, transportation, entertainment, and other expenses as well. If your budget is too strict (for example, it does not allow for entertainment expenses) you will slowly begin to fall off track. The main purpose of the budget is to live within your means, and avoiding purchasing items with your credit card.

Once you have created your budget, implement it and keep track of all your purchases. At the end of the budget period (whether your budget is monthly, weekly, biweekly) review it and see if there are any areas which can be improved going forward. Once that is done, your financial path is set up for success.

In my personal experiences, once I created a budget for myself to follow, I realized that I had extra money that I could save and looking back I probably just spent that money on “stuff” previously. It is a great feeling knowing that I created something for myself which I am able to follow and save money at the same time. Another amazing thing about my budget, is the fact that I no longer have to depend on my credit card for any purchases, since I can now purchase everything in cash.

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Budgeting, Savings | Leave a comment

Living on one income

Growing up, I thought that living on one income was the norm and that it would continue to be the norm. However, it is becoming much more common to see both parents working full-time career jobs. Why the shift in family patterns? Of course there are many causes, inflation, personal expectations, technology, credit cards, bills, there are so many causes it’s really hard to pinpoint one “thing” to blame.

It is said that approximately 80% of families living in the United States are now dual income earners.

dual

With that being said, is it possible to live comfortable on just one income in today’s society? An example for this situation could be a spouse going on maternity leave, and once the time is over, the spouse decides to stay home to raise their children. In this situation, there are only two choices possible:

1. Increase income
2. Decrease expenses

Increase Income
1. Government allotment: Depending on your geographical location, your government does supply families with a supplemented amount of money, usually a monthly deposit.

2. Promotion/Raise/New Job: The spouse, who is responsible for the income, can try to generate a raise, go for the promotion, or even job search for a better position. However, this option is not always suited for every family; it really comes down to what is best for the family.

3. Work from home: The spouse who is responsible for staying home to raise the children can work from home on a casual basis. In today’s society there are so many casual jobs that allow parents the freedom to make their own hours and the amount they want to work. For example; who would have ever thought there would actually be a job for dog walkers?? I mean, you buy an animal because you love animals and in doing that you have to take the responsibility of providing for your animal (like a child, you have to feed, love, nurture, and care for your animal). However, people today are just too busy (I guess) to walk their own dog. Being a dog walker, you can set your own hours, how many dogs you want to walk, and doing this you get out of the house, exercise, and peace of mind. Another option is home daycare. A few hours after or before school for the kids down the street can really help supplement your family income. The options really are endless, you just have to do your research and look for options that are available to you in your location.

4. Work part time: The spouse, who left their job to stay home, may be able to work part time while raising children. Getting out of the house is really important when you are raising children because it provides an adult outlet for you, while earning money at the same time.

Decrease Expenses
Random Spending: Generally, the more money you have the more you spend. Without knowledge of your financial situation it is easy to assume that you have more money than you really do. It seems odd, but usually dual income families spend more, and save less. One theory could relate this to parents feeling that they work so hard that they deserve whatever they want. Or, they work so long and therefore will buy their children love (this is not to say you can’t provide love when you work full time). Either way, it is important to decrease your expenses when transitioning from two incomes to one. For example; the random pizza night, or the 35$ teddy bear for no reason will have to be eliminated. When I was growing up, I was rewarded with tangible gifts when something was accomplished which really made me appreciate it much more.

Household expenses: Transition your household to a more energy efficient space. This is done in so many different ways from light bulbs to fridges. Also, be aware of the electricity that you are using up. Don’t have all the lights on in the house, or all the televisions on the same station. Recently it was published that even have appliances plugged in, yet turned off, is using an amount of electricity.

Bank fees/Service charges: It is absolutely amazing to me how much people spend (rather waste) on bank service charges. Do you research, shop around for the best account for your needs. I have seen some individuals throw away 15-30$ per month in service fees. Add this up over one year, which is 180-360 dollars wasted.

Credit Card interest: Eliminate all possible credit debt, starting with the highest interest card first. The interest amounts really add up, and logically speaking it is just putting you further in the hole each month.

Overall Monthly expenses: From food, transportation, entertainment, miscellaneous costs, it is essential that you re-evaluate your monthly budget to determine which accounts you can cut costs from. Read my article on grocery shopping tips to find creative ways to save on your grocery bill.

Overall, I personally feel that it may be challenging to comfortably survive on one income alone, however with knowledge, preparation, and structured planning it is very possible and rewarding.

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Savings, Social Situations | | Leave a comment

Tax Free Savings Account

Save Smart with the Tax Free Savings Account

The Canadian population already pays enough tax, and now with the recent news of the harmonized taxes we will be paying even more taxes come July 2010 when it is implemented. Be smart about your savings and begin to reduce your taxes on savings with the new Tax Free Savings Account. The Savings will allow you to put money into this account, watch it grow, and be tax free through the term.

General Outline:

You must be 18 years of age and over, and con only contribute a maximum of $5000 per year into your tax free account. The beauty of this account, aside from the tax free, is the fact that you are able to withdraw funds at any time. Unlike other investments’ or GIC’s, there is usually a renewal date that you have to wait for, or some hidden underlying catch. If you do withdraw an amount from your account, the amount deposited later won’t reduce your contribution limit.

Advantages of a TFSA?

  •  Flexible savings account that is not taxed.
  • If you are unable to contribute the 5000.00 in one year, you will be able to carry forward your contribution limit to the following year(s).
  • Couples can contribute to their spouses TFSA
  • Saving for an emergency is easy with this account. You are able to withdraw large sums of money, re-contribute at a later date, while maintaining the current contribution limit.
  • Senior Citizens will have the opportunity to save their money, and live comfortably.
  • TFSA withdraws will have no impact on any guaranteed income supplement payments.
  • Overall peace of mind knowing that money you earn, and save can be used by you for whatever purpose you want, without being penalized from the government.

 

For more information, please refer to the brochure distributed by the Government of Canada.

April 2, 2009 Posted by | Savings | 4 Comments

Restaurant Prices

For many people, going out to a restaurant is something we take for granted and probably do it more often than we should. Personally, it is not at the top of my list for excitement; however my fiancé really enjoys eating at restaurants. So, being committed and in this relationship together I understand I do have to compromise so we are able to do activities we both enjoy.

There are two things that really bother me about restaurants:

1. I really don’t like the fact that I don’t know everything that I am eating. For example; there may be something in the food that is not advertised, or it is possible that something “bad” could have happened behind the scenes to my food. Overall, I would much rather prepare my own meal and enjoy it within the comfort of my home.

2. MONEY…we are paying for the convenience of being lazy and getting food prepared for us. Sure it is acceptable once in a while, but if you are watching your money…restaurants are a sure place to spend a lot of it.

With that being said, it is possible to trim a little bit of the bill by watching for local discounts or deals. For example; we have all heard of the Thursday night all you can eat wings; or Wednesday nights are buy one entrée get one half price. So why not take advantage of these deals? Search the internet for your local favourite places and I am positive their website will advertise specialty deals where you can overall have a better time while saving some money.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Savings | Leave a comment

Bailout…

Probably one of the most used words in society lately, however many of us may be thinking we could use a bailout right about now.
As we recover from our holiday (over)spending, and creep into summer where we enjoy doing day trips, family trips, week long getaways etc., now is the time to really create a summer budget for yourself and your family.

Summer really is the time where the most freedom is felt with hot, sunny days, and warm starry nights…this is the perfect time to escape hibernation and have some fun. In my personal experiences, summer is the time to rekindle the family bond with exciting adventures, yet it is also possible to be frugal and smart with your money. It is important to remember to live within your means and what is available to you at this moment, and be aware of your financial situation before making any concrete plans.

Recently engaged, my fiancé and I wanted to venture out and take a vacation for ourselves sometime within 2009.  Being slightly structured myself, I always try to plan and determine a general outline of what we have happening in the near future. This does not mean I am not spontaneous, it just means that we have a general understanding and guidelines of what to expect for the upcoming year. So, one of our “resolutions” coming into 2009, was to create a separate expense category for our future planned vacation. Each week since the beginning of the year we have set aside a small portion of our income that we have allocated to this category. This has allowed us to be fully prepared for when we do take our vacation, and doing this we will not have to rack up credit card debt.

It really is this simple! If you create a guideline of major purchases/events that the future year will hold, you can create an expense category where you allocate money on a bi-weekly basis (or however your pay cheque is calculated) and when the time comes to enjoy your adventure, there will be no financial crisis. Doing this will lead to a more enjoyable getaway where you can truly relax and not think about your minimum monthly payments to your credit card company once you get back from your adventure.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Savings | Leave a comment

Coffee a Day..

Coffee a Day..?

Find yourself rushing for the morning java rush? Or the mid-afternoon energy boost from your favourite caffeine drinks? Buying and drinking coffee has become the norm. With so many café’s, coffee shops, specialty coffee chains, how can we resist? Many people believe that they can’t truly operate until they get their “morning” coffee into them. Well that is fine (financially speaking, maybe not so medically) just be cautious on how you get that daily coffee.

Depending on where you purchase your daily coffee, it can really add up to real savings (or spending) over one year.
Refer to the following graph for an illustration

Regular Coffee $1.50 * 365 = 547.50
Cappuccino $3.50 * 365 = 1277.50
Lattes $4.00 * 365 = 1460.00Savings

Find yourself with the situation that most resembles you, and realize that ONE coffee per day, really does add up. I am not saying you can’t treat yourself, but you have to be smart about your choices. Maybe a good way to treat yourself is allow yourself to buy two coffees per week. Depending on your work schedule maybe you find Monday’s to be the most challenging day to get going, but if you allow yourself that “treat” on a Monday, it might motivate you more. You will notice that the less you have of the product, the more you will begin to really enjoy it, while saving some money at the same time.

Don’t forget, there is always the traditional method, such as making your own coffee at home. This way you can enjoy what you make, with the people you want to be with.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Savings | | Leave a comment

Grocery Shopping Tips

Grocery Shopping

How many people really enjoy grocery shopping? For some it can be enjoyable, for others it is just another item on the “to do list”. During this difficult time period, many companies have raised their prices to fend off their decreasing profits. This places a greater problem on many consumers since it is becoming more and more complicated to live off their current income, let alone putting money away for savings.

Below are helpful tips that I recommend to consumers while grocery shopping.

Create a Budget
First and foremost; you should create a structured budget for grocery expenditures that ensure enough quantity of food is purchased to last for the budget period. For example; if you shop on a weekly basis, ensure your budget is substantial enough to last for the entire week or if you shop bi-weekly, ensure you purchase enough groceries to last that time frame. Without a budget, there is no guidance or structure and as consumers it is too easy to over spend when we are faced with not knowing what is a need compared to a want.

Read your local Flyers
A fast, simple and logical method to see what local vendor is offering their products at a more reasonable price.

Collect Coupons
Coupons are a great way to save an extra 1$ per item here and there. It might seem like a waste of time or that is really won’t make a difference, but common sense really shows that it does pay off. Take for example a coupon that is valid for 1 dollar off a loaf of bread. Over one year, if purchased weekly with the coupon, this amounts to a savings of 52 dollars. Coupons can be found on many online websites, as well being delivered through the mail. Keep your eye open for these savings.

Make a List
This is probably the most cost saving tactic one can use. Many consumers feel that they know exactly what they need and want when they are grocery shopping, however this is not the case. Marketing departments have become so intelligent and so advanced that they know exactly how to catch your attention, and make you buy! Think of all the items that are located right by the cashier, that is meant to be last minute items that you think will come in use. Personally, I can not go grocery shopping (or any kind of shopping) without a list made. It provides that sense of structure that allows me to purchase exactly what I will need for the entire week.

Brand name Products?
Brand name products are clearly more expensive than private label items. Why? Well there are many causes of this, firstly advertisers assume that people will fall into their trap believing that their product really is that much better than their generic competitor. Also, brand name products have to build an extensive marketing and advertising campaign that will attract and retain their loyal customers. In all seriousness, there are some no name products that don’t measure up with their brand name competitors, but overall I don’t feel there is a need to spend more money on a specific brand. In times like this, I feel it is more important to buy the right food at the right price.

Price Match
Did you know that some companies offer what is known as price matching? This simply means that they will match the price of a product if they sell it for a greater amount than their competitors. Usually all you have to do is bring in the flyer to illustrate the lower price and that price will be granted. This can be go a long way when purchasing staple items, and it allows you to complete all your shopping at one main store.

February 20, 2009 Posted by | Savings | 1 Comment