Sunnyside Beach

How to Plan a Staycation

Sunnyside Beach

Wouldn’t it be great to escape the chaos and day-to-day responsibilities of our everyday lives for a week of fun and relaxation somewhere far away?  But what if it’s not in the budget?  Airfare, hotel rooms, rental car, dining out, and other travel expenses can make getting away very expensive.  And even if money isn’t a factor, sometimes health issues or work obligations prevent us from going away anytime we feel like it. It’s March break here and I am feeling we could use some down time.

But that doesn’t mean when the kids are home from school for summer vacation that you can’t still have a great time! Why not plan to take a vacation right in your own backyard?  A true Staycation is more than just time off at home, it’s an intentional time of fun and relaxation for your family.  It may take a little effort to do it right, but ultimately, it can be just as fun as going out of town.

  1. Set ground rules. The point of a Staycation is to make it feel as much like a real vacation as possible, without leaving home. To make sure the whole family is on the same page, it’s good to set some ground rules that everyone can agree on.  These could include some or all of the following:
  • No email
  • No computer or video games
  • No work
  • No fighting
  • Family time only—no independent activities
  • No cooking, cleaning or doing laundry
  1. Spruce up your bedroom. Make sure you have cozy soft sheets and that they are freshly washed. Add some scented fabric softener to the laundry so they smell great.  Unplug the alarm clock and hide it in the closet.  Put fresh flowers on your nightstand along with a book you’ve been looking forward to reading.  Fill a basket with your favorite snacks and some bottled water to keep in your room.  Place scented candles around to encourage relaxation.
  2. Be a tourist. Do you live in or near a city like we do where there are lots of tourist attractions?  If you do, you’ve likely never been a tourist in your own home town.  This is the time to explore where you live.  Visit local museums or monuments, try out a couple of the “hot spots” for dinner, go to the zoo, attend a sporting event or get theater or concert tickets. Here in Toronto, there are lots to do, and lots of them are free.
  3. Spend time in the great outdoors. Go on a nature walk at a nearby national park. With Rouge Park being a National Park and with all national parks being free for the 150th anniversary of Canada this one is budget friendly as well.  Do you live within a couple hours’ drive from a beach?  Take a day trip. If you’re not close to a beach or hiking area, go to a local park for a game of Frisbee, a long walk or some fishing.  Go camping or watch movies in the backyard. Here in Toronto, you might want to head over to the Toronto Islands which are just a short ride away.
  4. Enjoy a family night in. Play a board game together.  Have a movie night complete with popcorn and hot fudge sundaes.  Work on a puzzle or invent a new game.  Build a fire to roast marshmallows and tell scary stories.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, or even travel out of town to enjoy a fun and relaxing family vacation.  I hope these ideas have inspired a few ideas of your own! We are looking forward to our next staycation right here at home.

Young woman inside sitting on window seat and laughing while loo

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
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Taxes

Tax Trends that Will Effect You in 2017

Taxes

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. 

red-poinsettia-ball-ornament-root-2495hdr1522_hdr1522_1470_1-jpg_source_image

Celebrating the Holidays with Hallmark with a #Giveaway #LoveHallmarkCA

Tis the season of decorating, card sending, tree decorating, baking and celebrating the holidays with family, friends, and Hallmark. Hallmark has been a part of my life, especially for the holidays since I was born. There have always been Hallmark cards and gifts each and every year. I am thankful to be a Hallmark ambassador and love the boxes they send out each year. This year whether you are celebrating a December birthday like me, Christmas, Hannukkah or New Years, you can find the perfect card, gift, gift wrap or decor with Hallmark.

peanuts_holiday_book_and_snowman_blanket

This year’s Hallmark box, was filled with things both Rachel and I loved. Rachel gravitated to the snowman blanket and the Peanuts Holiday book. Both would make great gifts.

 

Do you still send out Christmas cards to family and friends? Hallmark has a wonderful selection of cards including those from Dove decorated Hannukah cards, Wonder-Folds White Christmas Tree cards, Home and Native Land Canadian Exclusive boxed cards and Signature boxed cards.

hallmark-ornaments

Have you finished decorating your tree yet? Ours seems to be a work in progress every year. This year there are some beautiful Hallmark ornaments. Some of my favorites include the Red Poinsettia Glass Ball, the Itty Bitty Star Wars: The Force Awakens BB-8, the Scottie Dog Ornament, the Coffee Signature ornament, and the Itty Bitty Elsa ornament.

hallmark-holiday-bags-1024x891

My almost 19 year old spotted the Cheers Bottle Bag and thought that would be perfect for a bottle for her birthday. I laughed out loud!! They also included a couple of other gift bags.

I then showed her the Not on the Naughty list Toe-of-a -Kind socks and told her she is on the naughty list.

red-poinsettia-ball-ornament-root-2495hdr1522_hdr1522_1470_1-jpg_source_image

Now, here is the best thing about being a Hallmark Ambassador, I get to share a giveaway with my readers. I am giving away one of the beautiful Red Poinsettia Glass ball ornaments this Christmas season. To enter the giveaway, tell me how do you decorate.  Do you have ornaments that are sentimental? A color scheme? An angel or a star on top? This giveaway will end Christmas eve and you will be able to add this heritage ornament to your collection for Christmases to come.

Please use the Rafflecopter below. This giveaway is open to Canadian residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

black-friday

5 Tips to Winning At Black Friday Shopping

black-friday

It is hard to believe, Halloween and Remembrance Day are over so we are now in full holiday mode. We are making lists and checking them twice getting ready for that day all shoppers love or hate, Black Friday. There are several ways you can win at Black Friday shopping. It all starts with a little prep work.  Here are my tips and tricks for winning at Black Friday.

1. Set a Budget

The average family spends at least $750 on Christmas. Do you cash or credit? I suggest using cash on hand unless you are buying electronics or unless you are diligent in paying the full balance of your credit cards each month. Use your Christmas budget total to set your Black Friday spending budget. Know how much you are willing to spend per person and create a list of gift ideas for each person.

2. Check out the Ads Ahead of Time

The week of Black Friday your local newspaper will be full of flyers, coupons and ads. Did you know you can see some of these already? Some have been leaked. I love using my Flipp app. It always has the flyers ahead of any sale. It allows you to browse and make a list.

3. Make a List

One of my favourite features with the Flipp app is the shopping list feature.  I use it every week for grocery shopping and love it for that but when it comes to a major shopping day like Black Friday it is my lifesaver. Now, you can even share the list with a loved one. Love your paper list, you can capture your own list with the flipp app just in case you forget it.

flipp capture list

4. Divide and Conquer

So you have checked the flyers and found great deals at several different stores. With quantities in short supply, you want to set priorites and then divide and conquer. I am loving the newest feature of the Flipp app, my ability to share it with a friend or family member. This means my list can be divided and conquered!

img_3876

5. Go Early

I have found I get what I want when I go early. There is the rule that the early bird gets the worm. This is especially true on Black Friday. Last year I got in line at midnight to get the best deals.

 

 

 

 

mortgage-rules

What Do the New Mortgage Rules Mean? Why Tighten the Rules?

mortgage-rules

Last week I went out to lunch with my friend Marcy. She owns a Mortgage Brokerage here in Toronto, and of course, our conversation turned to the new mortgage rules that were announced in October. So what do the new mortgage rules mean? How is this going to impact most Canadians and what is coming in the pipeline? I have always told my readers and those that follow me, I always go to the experts for the answers. Marcy is one of those experts I turn too.

Is it like this the government is worried about a housing bubble? They are worried Canadians are taking on more house debt then they can afford. This is real. You will see more of a rise in interest rates and that my friends mean some will possibly lose their homes.

Do you own your home?

Are you a current home owner? Are you think of refinancing so you can take care of some bills or do home renovations? If the answer is yes, this just became harder to do. With the new rules in place, you can only take up to 85% of the value of the home. A year ago this limit was 95%. Those days are gone.

Refinanced mortgages must be paid within 30 years. The old 35-year limit is gone.

What does this mean for you today? Are you thinking of refinancing? Now is the time to do it. There are more changes coming shortly, and the thing is we are not sure what they will be. I would say if you are looking at refinancing then the best time to do it is NOW.  Interest rates at the TD Bank have already gone up, and I think others will follow shortly. We can not have these low rates forever.

There are more NEW regulations coming as well. As of November 30th, the game changes once again. Until then buyers with a 20% down payment who opted for mortgage insurance have not been scrutinized. They had been able to get low-ratio insurance sold through 2 private insurers. That all changes at the end of the month.

Starting November 30th, there is a new criterion for low-ratio insurance. When you are spending less than 1 million dollars, your mortgage amortization must be for 25 years or less; the property must be owner occupied, and the buyer must have a credit score of 600 or better.

When looking at refinancing, I say look at using a mortgage broker like Marcy because they know the industry, the wide variety of products available and can steer you towards a product that works best for you. Will you not be using your bank? Possibly. It is always better to take a look at ALL your options.

Are you buying your first home?

With all these changes coming, if you are close to getting that first mortgage the time to get to the market is this month before the November 30th changes. It has been estimated that 1/3 of all first-time homeowners will have to put off that first mortgage with the changes. Stress tests are a good thing in the long run though, as they prevent you from being house poor. The stress test makes sure you can afford to pay your mortgage if interest rates go up. The stress test says we should not be spending more than 39% of our income on housing costs. This includes your mortgage, heat and taxes.

There are also new rules around taxes and the sale of homes as well. Beginning this year, all home sales must be reported.  The reason for this is to try and stop the flipping that often goes on.

Finally, more changes are coming. More regulation changes are expected as is a rise in interest rates so now is the time to take a look at what you have and what it means for you in the future.

PS. If you would like to talk with my friend Marcy from Mortgages from Women, she is one I trust. Tell her I sent you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

financial-literacy-month

Why Financial Literacy Month Matters

financial-literacy-month

Every November, Canadian banking institutions, educational institutions, and well even us ordinary citizens take part in Financial Literacy month. Why does it matter? Why should you be paying attention to the money conversations this month? Money matters.

Canadians go more in debt every year; there are changes to laws that deal with money on an ongoing basis and you need to know about these and as we age we need to have a clear plan for our futures. These are simply three good reasons to pay attention this month. There is always something you can learn from a money conversation.

Here on Common Cents Mom this month I will be sharing lots of money posts:

  • We will talk about budgeting and my favourite budgeting tools and apps.
  • We will talk about retirement and financial planning.
  • We will talk about talking to our kids about money.
  • We will talk about mortgages as this is an important topic with all the recent changes and with more to come in January.
  • We will talk about savings and the power of interest.
  • We will talk about talking money in relationships.
  • We will talk about wills and estate planning.
  • We will talk about having your own roadmap.
  • We will talk about managing debt and when to seek help.
  • We will talk about first jobs and payroll deductions.
  • We will talk apps that help me stay on track.

Most of these conversations are not branded so you will get lots of information and resources. My goal when I started my blog was to have real money conversations, after all, I was a mom on welfare when this journey began, and I had lots to learn.

Want to know more about financial literacy, there are lots of ways to join the conversations:

  • Follow the hashtag #FLM2016 on Twitter.
  • Join me for a Facebook Live conversation at 6:45 PM EST each Tuesday night on Common Cents Mom my facebook page.
  • Join me as I bring back the #CDNmoney chat on Twitter each Tuesday night at 7 pm EST.
  • Several brands will be having online conversations as well, as I learn of these I will share them on my social channels.

 

free online classes

Get Smarter for Free: Online Classes You Should Take

13efb17

Ever wanted to go to Harvard? MIT? Learn to code? Learn Google Analytics? Become a better writer? There are courses you can take for free. You can get smarter by learning for free. All it will cost you is time and effort. Several of the skills you may want to learn can help you work from home as well. So what are some of the free online courses you can take?

Have you heard of Alison? 

 Alison offers several courses and even diplomas you can take for free. Yes, I said you can get a diploma for free! If you work from home may I suggest the Business and Enterprise Skills Diploma. It has courses in Web Design, Customer Service, Project Managment and Accounting.

Want to Learn to Code?

Have you heard of CodeAcademy? You can learn JavaScript (the language of the internet for free). You can also learn HTML & CSS, SASS, and Python through here.

Want to learn Design?

You can take a free PhotoShop class with Udemy. They have over ten free classes to choose from.

Always wanted to attend a Canadian University?

Through EdX you can. McGill offers four free courses online on Exercise, Food, Natural Disasters, and Social Learning. Wanted to attend the University of Toronto. You can they offer free classes in Behavioral Economics, Health Professional Teaching Skills, Global Health, and teaching with technology.  Always wanted to take a class from Harvard University?They have quite the list you can take!  Everything from religious studies to Hamlet’s Ghost to Genomics Data Analysis.

Always wanted to take a class from Harvard University?

 

They have quite the list you can take!  Everything from religious studies to Hamlet’s Ghost to Genomics Data Analysis. They are one of the founders of EdX.

Looking for other courses at EdX we found several interesting ones. My teen noticed the Design and Development of Games for Learning course that MIT offers. I noticed MIT’s Startup Success: How to launch a Technology Startup. At the Sorbonne, you can learn in French.

Want to learn another language?

Back at Alison, you can learn several languages. You can learn French, German, Irish, Arabic, Spanish and Swedish for free.

There are so many things to learn. I have always been of the thought that knowledge brings power and ability. Why not try adding to your skill set today by taking a free course? Let me know which one you decide to take.

 

thanksgiving

How to do Thanksgiving Dinner for Under $40

thanksgiving

For the last few years, I have been hosting Thanksgiving dinner here at home, and I love when there are lots of leftovers. It means I don’t have to cook for a few days. One of the things that have always concerned me is how much we spend on a holiday meal. Did you know you can do a nice Thanksgiving dinner for under $40.00 The meal can serve 4-6 people.

Here is how to do Thanksgiving dinner for under $40.00:

Check out your local flyers, your favorite recipe sites, and look at what coupons you may have on hand. I always check for coupons and deals on my Flipp app. If you are a regular reader of mine, I am sure this app is on your phone.

Decide on your menu and make your shopping list. I love that I can make my list right on my Flipp app. It allows me to carry my shopping list with me wherever I go so there are no mistakes made.

img_2128

Here is what I will be serving this Thanksgiving:

  • Roast turkey ( yes I do a whole Turkey). Did you know you can get a great price on turkey at Walmart Canada right now? Because of the price of the turkey there I decided I would do all my shopping there.
  • Honey Glazed Carrots. ( we love these)
  • Sweet potatoes and marshmallows
  • garden salad
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Stuffing ( I add a bit of cranberries to my Stove Top)
  • Pickles
  • Rolls
  • Apple Pie with Cool Whip
  • Apple Cider
  • Gravy

This allowed me to use coupons and price match as well check out any deals that Walmart had. One of the things I do, before I shop, is make my shopping list and checked it twice. I always check my cupboards before I leave the house, so I am not purchasing duplicates. This year there was no need to purchase things like flour, eggs, butter, spices, or pickles because I have them in the house. I also have salad fixings in the house always.

 Went to my local Walmart store with my list on my app and my clippings ready. There were several price matches I thought I might need but the majority of the time the price at Walmart was just right. I did manage to do a few price matches, though.

img_2129

When you make a menu with your favourite recipes, make a list and check it twice, then use my favourite shopping tool Flipp you can do even a holiday meal on a budget. No need for a huge expense on the pocket book. Check out everything I got for $36.00. The only thing missing is my apple cider.

img_2123

Now if you are a huge fan of Flipp like I am you will want to check out their Facebook page and Twitter account this week during the day. They are giving away some great prizes as they celebrate #FlippGivesThanks

272143

Free Coffee at Luke’s Diner here in Toronto and Across the US #StreamTeam

 

272143Netflix Canada is bringing Luke’s Diner to Toronto this week.  October 5th is officially the #Gilmoreversary! The yearly celebration of the series is held every October 5th but if you love Gilmore Girls like we do you already know that!

To celebrate, Netflix is bringing everyone’s favourite Stars Hollow hangout to Toronto! Fans can celebrate the way Lorelai and Rory would by grabbing their person (mom, boyfriend, Sookie…Kirk) and heading to any of the four Luke’s Diner locations in the city. If you don’t live in Toronto, don’t worry Vancouver has a location and if you are one of my American friends there are locations popping up in many cities. There are a total of 250 coffee shops being converted for the day.

Decked out with all the Luke’s Diner essentials, fans will receive a free cup of coffee and a fun surprise under their custom Gilmore Girls coffee sleeve. To find the Luke’s closest to you, fans can visit TownofStarsHollow.org/Lukes.

Here in Toronto:

What:

Netflix brings Luke’s Diner locations to Toronto!

When:

All day, Wednesday, October 5

Free coffee giveaway from 7 am – 12 pm ET

Where:

The Rolling Pin – 3429 Yonge St.

Infuse Café – 354 Yonge St.

Infuse Café – Gerrard Square Mall, 1000 Gerrard St E

Milano Espresso Bar – 266 Adelaide Street W., Unit 2