Life Hacks to Spend Your Tax Refund On

Young woman inside sitting on window seat and laughing while loo

It’s that magical date that comes but once a year. No, it is not Christmas! Today is the day Netfile opens for Canadian tax filers

. For those of us who will be getting refunds, it is like Christmas day, and we are already thinking of ways to spend our refunds.

If you are ready to file your tax return for the 2016 year and are looking for an easy free way to do it yourself, look no further than the free version of TurboTax! From its fully guided experience that walks you through your taxes step by step, to TurboTax Free, a simple free option that covers most tax situations and can be used anywhere anytime, TurboTax has you covered.

With TurboTax and its accurate step by step guidance, you are sure to get your maximum refund. Now how to spend that hard earned money.

Do you want to be smart and improve your life with your tax refund? Here are some life hacks you may want to invest in:

Reduce Debt

Whether it be student loan debt or credit card debt, it is always smart to use the extra cash to reduce these amounts. Pay off this kind of debt as quickly as you can, and a lump sum payment helps you to reduce the amount you will have to pay. You also win in the long run as you will also be paying less interest.  Think of it as a life hack that pays off later.

Add to Your Emergency Fund

Think of all those rainy days when you could have used a few extra dollars in your bank account. Putting money aside into your emergency fund means the money is there for when you need it most.  Think of it has the life hack that brings peace of mind.

Invest in Yourself

Sometimes developing new skills can lead to more opportunities at work but other times they simply help you improve the quality of your life. You can take a cooking class so you are not tempted to eat out as much when you can cook gourmet meals at home, you want to buy a camera and learn about photography, to may want to learn a second language to help you communicate better with those around you. Perhaps you want to improve your health and take a yoga class.  This life hack is all about you.

Get Your Health in Order

Many Canadians have to spend out of pocket on medical costs. If you need to spend on that much-needed visit to the dentist, buy those new eye glasses or to meet with a nutritionist as you make healthy choices. This is a great time to spend that money. Remember to save your receipts as well because most of this can be written off as medical expenses.

The One Big Thing

Sometimes we have been dreaming of that new big screen TV, the new laptop, the new cell phone, or perhaps it is that new bag. Whatever it is, if it can enhance your life, now would be the time to make that purchase.

There are so many ways to save and spend your tax refund. Tell me what your favourite is, and you can win a free download of TurboTax.  I am giving away five downloadable TurboTax codes to help you get your taxes done and get that refund in your hands.

*Giveaway rules: Open to Canadian tax filers who leave a comment letting me know how they would spend their tax refund.  Giveaway ends March 5th, 2017
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5 Budget Friendly Date Night Ideas

budget friendly date ideas

Remember when you first met your sweetheart and started dating? You probably looked forward to going out on date night. Making plans and going out was so easy. Just find something fun to do and do it. There are many budget-friendly date night ideas.

Life can get busy and distract you.  You may have started feeling a little disconnected from each other. Some quality time, just the two of you is exactly what you need to reconnect. And make even more great memories together!

It’s time to enjoy date night again. Whether it’s a special occasion or just an average night, hire a babysitter or drop the kids off with friends or family and get out for a kid-free night.

Your date doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some great ideas for an inexpensive budget friendly afternoon or evening out:

1. Star Gazing

Star gazing is a perfect cheap date. Pack a picnic and a bottle of wine, head out to an open field where you can clearly see the stars, and lie back on a blanket to marvel at the universe together. This is a great way to reconnect and just spend some time talking to each other.

2. Groupon and Living Social deals.

You can find many great deals for date night adventures on Groupon and Living Social. You can score discounts on weekend getaways, restaurants, wine tastings and more. The deals are typically a 30-60% discount, and you can find deals for things you would not have done otherwise because of the cost. Here in Toronto I have loved using these to get a great night out.

3. Museums.

Many museums and other tourist attractions are free. Some offer special events or exhibits. Usually, we tend not to be “tourists” in the city we live, but that means we’re missing out on the history and fun of our local area. Find a great museum exhibit or site to take in for the evening. Check the museum schedule, they often include a time when they are free to the public.

Here in Toronto, you can take advantage of the Sun Life Financial Museum and Art Pass that is available at the Toronto Library.

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4. Rent Bicycles.

If you don’t have a bike, look for someplace that offers bike rentals then head out to the nature trails or parks in your area. This is a great way to see your community in a new way. Pack a picnic and enjoy an afternoon in the sun. Or go for night ride and enjoy some star gazing.

5. Go for a walk downtown.

A weekend night is the perfect time to just walk and window shop. There is so much to see and people watching is always fun. Get creative and make up stories about the interesting people you see while grabbing dessert in your favorite cafe. You’ll share a lot of laughs and enjoy some quality time together.

Spending quality time with your sweetheart doesn’t have to be expensive. What other ideas can you think of to enjoy date night on a budget?

Tax Trends that Will Effect You in 2017

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It is that time of the year again! It is January, and if you have been a reader of Common Cents Mom you know I start talking taxes in January to give you plenty of time to prepare. Again this year, I will be doing my own taxes and have once again agreed to partner with TurboTax Canada to bring you tax tips all tax season long. So what do you need to watch for in 2017?

This year Canadians are faced with a number of changes. Four of the child tax credits parents loved are gone. The tax credit for income splitting has changed dramatically and is now capped at $2,000. The good news is there have also been changes to Employment Insurance and the child tax benefit that are helping many Canadian families.

According to a recent TurboTax national survey, most Canadians are optimistic about their taxes and two-thirds do expect to receive a refund. More than half of Canadians will do their own taxes this year. With that said, it is really easy when using TurboTax.  I have used TurboTax for the past few years and have found it gets me all the money I deserve by automatically checking over 400 potential deductions and credits every year. This means I always get what I deserve guaranteed. You can read more about the guarantees here.

Are you an early bird when it comes to filing your taxes? It seems most Canadians- that is eighty percent file as soon as they have their paperwork ready. Over half of Canadians, say they will file in March but now is the time to prepare.

Did you know many Canadians aren’t taking advantage of all the tax deductions and credits as they should be? Now is the time to make sure you have these documents ready.

  • Only 44% of Canadians will claim medical expenses. Get your receipts in order, you can even ask your pharmacist for a copy of your receipts for the year.
  • Only 40% of Canadians with claim Charitable donations. Any time you give more than $20 to a charity get a receipt as it is a tax deduction.
  • Only 11% plan to claim rental receipts. Every year this helps my return soar here in Ontario.
  • Only 7% claim child care expenses. Save your receipts and have your care giver give the proper receipts.

Now is the time to get ready so you can get the best refund possible. Want to learn more ab0ut getting ready for this year’s tax season. Check out the tax tips section on the TurboTax website. It is filled with great tips that will help you get the best return possible. Also, remember to follow my blog and social this tax season as I bring you more information and tips. I also enjoy checking out the TurboTax blog all season long.

Let me know if you are expecting a refund this year and how you will spend it in the comments. I will be giving away 5 downloadable  TurboTax codes that will see you doing your taxes for free.

 

*Giveaway ends February 28th, 2017 and is open only to Canadian tax filers. 

Seven Money Habits You Want to Break in 2017

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How much money you have is often linked to your money habits. For instance, if you like to eat junk food, chances are you over-spend on fast food.

Here are seven bad money habits that you might not even realize you have and how to overcome them in 2017 or any year.

1. Going into debt for wants rather than needs

Lifestyle based purchases, such as luxury handbags or an expensive phone, force you into unnecessary debt if you have to pay for it on a payment plan. If your wants continually push you into debt, you have a habit that you need to get rid of.

Cure: Debt is for essential and strategic purchases only. Going into manageable debt to buy a house or pay for your children’s education is fine. It’s not OK when you use debt to fund a luxury lifestyle.

2. Postponing financial decisions

How many times have you told yourself, “I will start investing next month” only to continually push it back every month because you did not save any money? Postponing good financial decisions is worse than making bad ones. With time, good investments generate additional income for you, so the earlier you start, the more you make.

Cure: Start setting aside money every month to put towards investments. The longer you delay, the less you’ll make in the long run.

3. Gambling rather than investing

Many people tend to dabble in the stock market without knowing what they’re doing. Maybe you got a tip that a particular stock is a good bet, or someone told you that Options are a great way to make money. But, if you’re putting your money into investments that you don’t understand, you are gambling and not investing.

Cure: Investments should be based on your goals. If you don’t know how to invest, hire a professional to help you or take a course.

4. Spending more than what you make

This is the worst habit for your financial well-being, when you constantly spend beyond your means. When the money you spend exceeds your income at the end of the month, you are overspending.

Cure: Start monitoring your spending habits. Take a look at your expenses and separate them into two categories – needs and wants. Cut out what you don’t absolutely need. Create a budget to get your spending under control.

5. Paying your bills after the due date

If you are constantly making late payments on your credit cards and utility bills, you are paying more than you need to, and it adds up. In case of credit cards, late payments could potentially add up to hundreds, thanks to high interest rates.

Cure: Always pay your bills on time to avoid late fees. Set up auto pay for your bills to ensure you don’t pay them late.

6. Indulging in habits that are expensive

Smoking, drinking, and eating out too often are habits that come with a significant price tag. You might think these expenses as small, but over time, they add up to significant amounts.

Cure: If you have a habit that has a negative impact on your health and your wallet, it’s time to break it. Get help if you need to, but your body and your wallet will thank you in the long run..

7. Not saving regularly

Saving regularly can be difficult. Especially if you tend to spend first and save whatever is left over.

Cure: Decide on how much you can save on a regular basis and set it aside as soon as you get paid. This will ensure that saving becomes a habit.

How to Eat Fresher and Cheaper on a Budget

How to Eat Fresher and Cheaper on a Budget

If one of your New Years’ resolutions is to cut your grocery costs while buying fresher groceries,  it can be done.  There are a number of strategies that you can use to save money every time you grocery shop.  I love heading to my local FRESHCO where I can definitely get fresher and cheaper on a budget.

 

Meal Plan

When you plan your meals before you head to the grocery store you know what you need.  You know what your meals will be for the week. You are not simply scanning the aisles for what looks good.

 

Make a List

Research has shown that if you can avoid impulse buying you can save at least 20% on your weekly grocery bill. Always shop with a list. I use an app to keep my list handy.

FRESCHO shopping trip

Eat Your Veggies and Fruit too

You can save 25% by adding more fruits and vegetables to your cart. You can have a healthier and fresher grocery list simply by choosing fresh for snacks and the main event. Not only do you save money, but you are getting healthier as well! You have to love that!

FRESHCO flyer

Shop Seasonal and Sales

If you know me, you know I love to shop seasonally and love a great deal.  Have a freezer? Stock up on meat when it is on sale. I love checking my local flyers on a flyer app. You can always find the FRESHCO weekly flyer here as well. It lets me know what sales I can find that week, as I meal plan I am often referring to this list.  Fruit and vegetables in season are always cheaper.  Choose fruit that is ripe and ready to eat and some that needs to ripen in a few days. That way there will be no waste.

 

When you stock up on staples like rice, beans, pasta you have them on hand to make great healthy meals. Watch for these when they are on sale as they do have a longer shelf life.

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Shop the Perimeter

 

I love shopping at my local FRESHCO. I walk into the produce section and from there I do 80 percent of my shopping around the perimeter. That is where I pick up my fruit, my vegetables, my meat, my eggs, my cheese, the basics for a healthy meal. When I shop the inside aisles I am looking for healthy staples like beans, nuts, and healthy whole grains. I am also looking for my spices.

Let me know, how you save at the grocery store.

 

*This post has been sponsored by FRESHCO, as always the opinions are my own.

 

Don’t Let Fraud Ruin Your Holidays

If you are anything like me, the last month has been busy – and life doesn’t show signs of slowing down until after the holidays are through. When life is busy, it’s easy to be distracted and click “yes” on something you shouldn’t have and then boom! Your bank account is compromised and the holidays become even more stressful. Over half of Canadians say they plan to do all or part of their holiday shopping online this year, making them a target for ‘ishing’ scams that can compromise banking or credit cards and make them a target for identity theft.  (Currently, there are three types of ‘ishing’ scams differentiated by how they are sent. Smishing is via text message, phishing via email / online notification, and vishing is via the telephone) There is no one thing you can do to completely protect yourself from these scams but there are a couple of tips from TD Bank that can help you stay ahead of the scammers.

Be Vigilant Online and at Home

Don’t respond to emails or phone calls asking for details about your banking or credit card accounts. A popular telephone scam going around right now has someone claiming to be “from your credit card provider” – no company, and they cannot tell you which card when you ask. Your actual credit card company will KNOW the details of your account, and while they often ask a question to verify your identity when you call in, it won’t be your credit card number or the Credit Card Validation (CCV) number found on the back. NEVER give these numbers out over the phone. Similarly, if you get a text message or email from a bank, be wary. No bank will ask you for account details via email or text message. If you get a suspicious message, do not reply but do save it. You can forward the message to your bank and their fraud department will look into the details.When shopping online make sure that the address in the address bar of your browser matches the store that you are shopping at – especially if you have clicked a link from an email to get to the site. Any page that is asking for payment information should have a little padlock icon and start with https:// instead of the usual http://. This indicates that you are on a secure site.

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Work WITH Your Bank / Credit Card Provider

Banks like TD have Fraud Alerts in place to help protect their customers from having their card compromised. If you are a TD Canadian customer, all you need to do is add your mobile number to your account via Easyweb or in person at a branch. Once you’ve done this, if the bank detects unusual activity on your TD Access Card, they may temporarily block your account and will send you a free[1] text message with information about the suspicious activity. A unique feature with TD’s fraud alerts is that if you recognize the activity – like you made an unusually large debit purchase yourself – you can reply to the text with a “Y” and your card will be unblocked without you having to call the bank or go into the branch to have it unblocked. If you don’t recognize the activity, you simply reply with an “N” and your card will be blocked, and you can contact your bank for the next steps to take. It is important to note that TD will never ask you to reply to a Fraud Alert text with any personal information or ask you to click on any links in your reply. If you want to learn more about this really cool feature from TD, check out their video here: https://www.tdcanadatrust.com/products-services/banking/electronic-banking/access-card/access-card.jsp#tdfraudalerts

By staying vigilant and working with your bank / credit card provider, you can stay a step ahead of the fraudsters and keep your money as safe as possible this holiday season.

This post has been sponsored by TD Bank. All opinions are my own.

Minimize your risk: The information above is provided to help you protect yourself, but it’s not foolproof: it’s a fast paced and constantly changing world so make sure you are keeping up-to-date on and monitoring security features and preventative measures to minimize your risk of fraud.

 

[1] TD does not charge any fees for TD Fraud Alerts. However, standard wireless carrier message  rates may apply.

Teach Your Kids to Give Back This Holiday Season

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Chances are, your family has participated in countless fundraising events through school, church, and other groups. Your kids probably even have a few ideas of their own about how they can help out in their community.

The key to nurturing a passion for giving back is for your kids to feel a connection to their cause and the ability to make it meaningful.

Here are 5 great ways your child can learn to give back this holiday season:

1. Visit a retirement home to read books to the residents. Seniors at assisted living homes are often lonely. Their families don’t visit them often enough. They love having kids around to fill the air with laughter. Encourage your child to spend some time playing games or reading books to residents. Your child will enjoy making a new friend too.

2. Help out your local food pantry. Encourage your kids to start a food drive in your neighborhood. Or, let them volunteer at the local food bank. They can help stock shelves and pack meals. They can also volunteer at a local soup kitchen feeding the homeless.

4. For my friends in the US, send cards to members of the military. Through the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, kids can write and send cards to active service members and veterans. The Red Cross plans community events for making and addressing cards to members of the community. Get in touch with your local chapter for more information about participating. Here in Canada, we have a similar program but the deadline for sending cards in in October.

4. Create a special “pay it forward” day. Make it “Pay It Forward Sunday” and tell your child that they have to find a way to give back in their community or to someone who could use a little help every Sunday. This way they can choose for themselves what their good deed should be. And it will encourage them to keep thinking of new ideas.

5. Put together a care package for someone who is alone or sick. Is there someone in your neighborhood who could use some special attention? Possibly an elderly person who is sick or alone? Have your child put together a care package for them and hand deliver it. You can include small gifts like hot chocolate or tea, homemade goodies and magazines or a good book. Your child can even color a picture to add to the box.

Giving back can also mean giving their time or sharing a portion of their allowance for the causes they believe in. What others ideas can you and your child come up with to give back this holiday season?

How to Talk to Teens About Building Credit

talking-to-teens-about-building-creditI remember well what it was like to be a teen starting out financially. I made some mistakes. I do not want my own teen to follow my footsteps.  The reality is I would not want that for any teen. By twenty-one, I had maxed out my credit cards and was figuring out what to do next. As a young person attending university, credit was thrown my way and I never understood interest, credit, or the long term ramifications. For this generation, for my daughter I want them to know how to build a great credit score, how to check it and the ramifications.  It’s important to teach our kids to be smart about money. So how do you talk to your teens about building credit?

Tip #1 – Take the time to explain what credit is, and how it’s used

A credit score is a number between 300 and 900, and indicates to providers who will loan you money or offer you credit, how responsible or “credit worthy” you are.
This number is decided based on secret algorithms by Canada’s credit bureaus – Equifax or TransUnion – based on a few factors:
  • Payment History — making payments on time
  • Amount owed — the amount of available credit you actually use impacts your score
  • Credit history — accounts you’ve had open for longer periods of time reflects better on your score
  • Types of credit — Having too few credit products may lower your score, a good mix (credit card, loan, mortgage) helps build good credit
  • New credit requests — applying for too many credit products in a short period of time is a red flag. Leave time between applications

 

Tip #2 – Tell them how it might impact them now, and in the future

In addition to having importance when they’re older and they might want to apply for a mortgage, it’s becoming more common to be asked to provide a score when applying for an apartment rental, or when being considered for employment. It’s becoming part of the full picture of responsibility.
Quick fact – You don’t have a credit profile before the age of 18
Quick fact – It takes six months to build a file after you’ve taken on your first credit product

 Tip #3 – Talk to your older teen about student credit cards

Student credit cards are easier to qualify for and can help younger Canadians start building a good credit profile – when managed properly –  making it easier to apply for more mature products later in life. Student cards are often low (or no) fee and can come with amazing perks like rewards or cash-back that are an added bonus for students managing a limited budget. If you want to check out some of the better student credit cards check this page on RateHub.
As well, once they start building credit they will want to check their credit score. Anyone can check their score for free here with RateHub: ratehub.ca/free-credit-score

RESP Rules: Everything You Need to Know

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A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is a great way for your family to start planning for your child’s future. As tuition fees across Canada continues to rise, it’s a good idea for your family start preparing for the day when your child is ready for university or college. RESPs are not just valid at universities, all accredited post-secondary institutions (college, technical school, certificate program, etc.) are eligible.

As parents we should evaluate our expectations – how much do you want your child to pay towards their education? Do you want them to have a part-time job or work in the summer? There is no right answer, but consider your personal beliefs when setting an education savings goal.

It is important to note that money is increasingly becoming a barrier for students wanting to attend school. Over half a million Canadians have student-loans with the average degree holder incurring around $20,000. Student loan debt is a burden on young adults trying to start their lives, and prevents them from reaching life’s milestones such as owning a house and getting married.

If you feel that you want to ease the burden for your children you should consider a RESP – it’s one of the best ways to save for post-secondary education. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about RESPs.

How much can I contribute?

As of 2007 there is no limit to how much you can contribute on an annual basis. There is a $50,000 contribution limit for the lifetime of the RESP. In most cases, if you are financially able to, or if you feel like your child will need more resources, it pays off to still invest up to the $50,000 limit. There are tax implications for contributions over this amount. You should check with your RESP provider to see if they have a deposit minimum or a minimum month contribution amount.

How do I qualify for grants?

There are two main grants available for Canadians who start RESPs: The Canada Education Savings Grants (CESG) and the Canada Learning Board (CLB). The CESG matches your annual contribution by 20 per cent up to $2,500. CESG grants caps out at a total lifetime maximum of $7,200 per child. The CLB works differently and is available to each child who qualified for the National Child Benefit Supplement (NCBS). The CLB will provide $500 immediately when you start your RESP and $100 a year until your child turns 15 if you qualify. There are also provincial grants available to residents in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Quebec.

What if my child does not go to school?

Let’s break down the answer based on the three ‘pots’ of money in an RESP. First off, your contributions can be withdrawn with no penalty, and remain non-taxable. Each RESP provider will have different rules regarding the withdrawal of contributions, so it’s important to ask.

If your child does not go to school, you have the option to change beneficiary and transfer the grant money. Should you choose to close the RESPS, the grant money is returned to the government. Any money received from the CLB must be returned and cannot be transferred.

Any investment income remaining in the plan can be withdrawn as an Accumulated Income Payment or transferred to your RRSP, provided you have contribution room. It’s important to know that AIPs will be taxed at your current nominal tax rate plus an additional 20 per cent penalty.

Setting up an RESP does not have to be difficult but it’s always a good idea to speak with a professional at Knowledge First Financial who specializes in RESPs and can help get you started.

Breaking News AIRMILES No Longer Expiring

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Back in February, I shared that AIRMILES older than five years would expire. As of today, that is no longer the case.

Loyalty One that is the company that ownsAir Miles has decided to cancel its plan to allow reward miles five years or older to expire amid blog posts like mine, lots of consumer complaints and new legislation that is in the works.

“There is uncertainty with provincial governments proposing or considering legislation across Canada, so we have decided to cancel the expiry policy so that all Collectors, regardless of location, can be confident that their balances will be protected,” said Bryan Pearson, President, and CEO, LoyaltyOne in a statement.

The change is effective immediately; this means if you collect AIRMILES you no longer have to worry about them expiring, and that is good news!

Had you cashed in your reward miles already or were you scrambling?

Personally, I am glad a brand listened to its consumers. I am also glad there is pending legislation that will protect consumers.