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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. Downtime is great to take.

But that doesn’t mean when the kids are home from school for summer vacation or March Break 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 cosy 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 favourite 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 hometown.  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 theatre 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 it makes a great spot to get into the outdoors. The TTC even takes you close to the park entrance.  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.

5 Habits You Can Use Now to Be Rich Tomorrow

Ever wonder how the rich got that rich? Do you think it was luck, being in the right place at the right time with the right idea? The more I study the wealthy- yes, I actually look deeply at what wealthy people do the more I see they developed habits. The glitz and glam of wealth looks amazing to most of us, I know it does to me but before the glitz and glam came they had to have good habits. It’s the same for anyone who wants any form of success you need to have habits that will get you to that goal.  Now, don’t expect to get wealthy literally tomorrow but over time if you follow these five you are well on your way.  What are five of the common habits I see daily in my wealthy friends and those I follow?

Gratitude

I am blessed to have some very wealthy friends. We don’t talk income levels but I know some lovely people who are very very wealthy and one of the things I have noticed amongst them they are thankful for what they have. They are thankful that hard work paid off, that patience paid off. Gratitude for what you have right now is something we can all do right now today. One practical way to bring more gratitude into your life is by keeping a journal of what you are thankful for.

Live Below Your Means

I can remember talking to a dear friend who is wealthy and asking her if she was attending a certain event (one that I know she would have loved) and one I attended. She replied no, it’s not in the budget. She always saved first. Events, fun, and expenses came after savings. I continue to learn from her example.

Here in Canada, many Canadians are worried about interest rates because of the debt loads they are carrying. If we lived below our means and were able to pay off our debt each month would we have to worry about interest rates? The wealthy know what they possess and know what they want long-term and that for them means living below their means.

Budgeting

How many of us live paycheque to paycheque without ever budgeting? How many of us are counting our coins the day before the next payday? Ever been there? I have. We turn a blind eye, we don’t want to count the costs. Let me tell you, a budget helps you control your future.  A budget lets you know where you are spending and allows you to allocate where money should go. A budget tells you about those little things that add up too, like the coffee runs, the dinners out, the impulse buys. A budget can be a wake-up call.

I noticed every wealthy person I know has a budget that they check regularly. It lets them see if they are on track. If you are looking for help with budgeting there are many great resources.

Multiple Income Sources

As I really looked at the lives of my wealthy friends, especially those that worked for themselves, I have noticed not one of them has a job as their only source of income. They all have multiple sources and are the masters of the side hustle. From being a landlord to driving for Uber to running an e-commerce site all are working on multiple things often while being employed in a full-time gig. To save more, they want to earn more. Have you ever considered having a side hustle?

 

Grey small house with porch and white railings with summer landscape.

 

Modest Big Purchases

When I look at where my rich friends live, they are in modest homes and yes sometimes they have kids that share rooms. They have cars that are well maintained and kept for the long haul. They aren’t driving Hummers or Range Rovers they are buying sensible vehicles for what they need. My one friend recently bought a Mercedes Benz but it was gently used. They don’t need the bling or the huge home. They get what works and set a budget. Wealth doesn’t come from the fast car or the big place.

What other habits do you see in your wealthier friends? What are ones that you could adopt and use?

There are many habits that the rich have that we can use today to have that better tomorrow.

The Book The Year of Less is a Must Read + Giveaway

A few years back a fellow personal finance blogger began a journey that I watched closely. I read her posts and updates and even had conversations with her as we would see each other on occasion at events throughout Toronto. It was quite the journey to watch. She documented much of it on her blog. She went on a spending fast, had rules and began to live a life well I was envious of in many ways. I still have a way to go on my own personal journey. So when I learned Cait Flanders was writing a book, I didn’t ask for a copy, I went to Indigo and bought one. That is right I paid for the book. Now, this post is sponsored as there is an upcoming Twitter party but I wanted to share that I have been a fan and follower of Cait’s for years now. Her book The Year of Less is a must read.

The Year of Less takes you on a journey. It’s the journey that Cait took. It’s the story of failure and success, the story of lessons learned and how her mindset changed along the way. Cait was typical of the average Canadian, in debt and shopping quite often. Does that sound like anyone you know? I know more than a few just like that.

Have you ever thought about being more mindful of what you buy? Have you ever thought of doing your own shopping ban? Cait wasn’t the first person I know who did a shopping ban. In the last ten years, I have been blogging I have seen more a number of friends take them on, some for a month, some for a few months and some truly adopted the minimalist lifestyle and worked into their lives. It can be done.

This Thursday night Cait Flanders, Blogger and Author have partnered up with Tangerine Bank for a Twitter Party that I think will be a great conversation about mindful spending, about how we shop and so much more.

Do join us for that great conversation and in the meantime here on my blog, I am giving away a copy of her book.

Entry is simple and is open to Canadian residents.

Leave a comment and let me know what do you think of mindful spending? Would you ever consider a shopping ban?

*Giveaway ends on Sunday, April 15th at 8 pm EST.

* I have been given a copy of her book to give away. I will also be participating in the #MindfulSpending Twitter Chat.

Ten Years of Common Sense Blogging

It’s hard to believe Common Cents Mom is ten!

I started this blog ten years ago. I wanted it to be an inspiration and a way for me to share the knowledge I was gaining.  It has been quite a rollercoaster ride and my community has shared it all with me!

 

So what are some of the highlights:

  • Over 1000 posts written ( that averages to 2 posts a week)
  • Started the first Personal Finance Chat in Canada even before the banks were talking about money online!
  • Wrote a tweet to Oprah that ended up in New York Times
  • Having this blog and one post featured on every news site in Toronto leading to the raising of thousands of dollars for fire victims.
  • Having Common Cents Mom featured on multiple lists as a blog to follow and read. I have been on the top lists more than 20 times.
  • Speaking at multiple Blogging Conferences and the University of Toronto as a Guest Speaker twice.
  • Being one of 4 bloggers invited by VIA Rail to take the Ocean train as part of its 110 birthday.
  • Having met many of my current friends via this blog.
  • Helping  2 apps that were created here in Ontario launch. One now has millions of downloads and the other was wanted by 4 Dragons on Dragons Den.
  • Over 5 billion social media impressions for brands that have partnered with Common Cents Mom
  • Over 200 Twitter Parties or Chats hosted or moderated for brands.

What surprises me every month is that new people visit and become followers and for each and every one of them I am grateful and blessed. I am floored that so many are now friends. I am thankful for conversations and how this community has grown together. I am thankful for the mentors who stepped in and taught me so much about personal finance and blogging. In the area of personal finance, I am thankful for Preet Banerjee who gave me my first paid writing gig. I wrote about my bankruptcy for his blog. I am thankful for Gail Vaz Oxlade who is the original Common Sense personal finance writer. These two I learned much from. In the area of authentic connection, I am thankful for names we who work in the world of Social Media know well.  I am grateful or Liz Strauss and Chris Brogan who along with Scott Stratten taught me much that I use every day. It is all about connecting in ways that matter, ways that help and make you think.

Eight years ago, my life changed when I became unemployed and ended up six days later being employed by Connected Multi-Media. Little did I know, all my paid work since has been in the world of social media. From blogging to a freelancer working alongside some great brands and agencies I have had so many great experiences. Dove Chocolates was my very first partner some 8 years ago and I have worked alongside over 100 brands and companies since.

As I look to the next 10 years, I look forward to Common Cents Mom being a resource for those that want to learn about money in ways that make sense, ways that save you time and money. I promise I will always be looking for ways and tools that will help my readers.

Here is living frugally so we can live well!

THANK YOU all for reading and visiting my blog. I appreciate every click and every moment you spend here.

 

Have a Side Hustle? Important Things to Remember Come Tax Time

Do you work full-time and have a gig on the side to earn a little extra money?  I do. In 2015, nearly one million Canadians filed taxes indicating that they worked a secondary job in addition to their full-time income – and that doesn’t include all the people who string together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet or earn a little income on the side. If you have a side hustle, whether it’s driving an Uber, being part of a direct sales company, or even pet sitting for cash, I’ve got some great tips for you this tax season.

Earlier this year, I attended a TurboTax Self-Employed Breakfast Club and came away with a few important tips and tricks that can come in handy at tax time.

First of all – you must report all income – I put it in bold because it’s very important. You may think you’re not earning enough to have to file a tax return, but even if you don’t earn any income after your expenses are accounted for, you are still a business owner when it comes to tax time. That means when you are just starting out, you need to claim this income.

But here’s the good news – when you own your own business, there are a lot of deductions you can use that you can’t access as a regular employee.  If you’re not sure about your employment status, check your documents – if you receive a T4 you’re an employee, a T4A is for self-employed individuals or freelancers. If you drive to get to your clients you can deduct mileage, you can deduct some office supplies, insurance, mobile phone bills, and even some of your housing costs if your business operates out of your house.

Track all of your expenses. The best way to do so for me has been with the QuickBooks Self Employed app. It is really easy to use for things like mileage, expenses, HST tracking and even invoicing. Users find an average of $4,340 in tax savings each year. Every penny matters. It really does help you track and makes tax time so much easier.

It’s so important to save for taxes. One big thing to remember if you have a side hustle that you run yourself – any earnings from your side hustle have not been taxed yet. Especially if your day job is a regular 9-5, it’s easy to forget that you need to pay the same tax rate on your side hustle earnings as you do your regular income. You should plan ahead and avoid a nasty surprise at tax-time by putting a portion of each of your sales aside for tax purposes. If you don’t think you have the discipline to set aside money after every sale, you can use Form TD1 and have extra tax deducted from your regular job so that you don’t have the temptation not to save. I have seen far too many that owe come tax time.

Remember, any taxes owed are due on April 30th even if you don’t file until June 15th.

Ask for help when you need it. One of the new ways TurboTax helps us DIYers is by giving us easy access to the experts. You can have whatever level of support you need.  You can use the SmartLook feature to speak with and even share your screen with an expert to ensure you are maximizing your return.  You simply access the help panel and you can get online live product support or schedule a callback from a tax expert or product specialist. This way you can get help when it’s convenient for your schedule. The screen sharing capability of SmartLook allows the tax expert to circle boxes or numbers on your screen to guide you in entering your information. It can’t be easier than that.  You have whatever level of support you need.

Whether it’s driving for Uber, renting out your basement with Airbnb, re-selling items you get online or at thrift stores, selling cookies or cakes or things you make at a farmer’s market, selling items through a direct sales company, babysitting, pet sitting, or tutoring the neighbour’s kid, there are many options for earning some money on the side. With TurboTax solutions for Self-Employed , reporting that income at tax time has never been easier.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of TurboTax. The opinions and text are all mine.


 

How to Save on Book Purchases

Are you like me, an avid reader? Do you have a pile of books on your night table? I have something to admit: I read every day. I go to bed with a book in my hand and am transported to the most amazing worlds. From fiction to kids books to self-development and business books, I read them all. My daughter is an avid reader as well, so we have shelves of books in our home. Because we love the feel of books and love to own books, we are always looking for ways to save on books.

So how do we save on books?

  1. We will do book swaps with friends. It’s kind of like a clothing swap but for book lovers like me.

  2. We look for the best deals on books.

We shop online for books. Often times, we will check out books in person at a local bookstore, but then check online to find the best price.  Most often we end up buying from BookOutlet.ca.  Why?

We love that we can find books for 50-90% off the retail pricing. We also love that when you spend more than $45 your purchase is shipped for free. It’s best to stock up when you order.

What are some great current deals?

Anyone who knows me, knows I love Tony Robbins. I have read every book written by him. You can get his most current book, “Unshakeable” for 65% off retail. That is a great deal!

Recently, in the morning I have been reading personal development books as a way to start my day. One author and speaker a friend introduced me to this year was John C Maxwell. If you are into entrepreneurship, leadership and growth you want to read his books. You can find many of his titles for 60% or better.

I am also trying to get healthier so another of my recent reads is “The Mind Gut Connection.” Did you know the the mind and gut are connected? They are and you can read about it for 59% off retail.

At bedtime, I read more fiction. There are some great reads to be found on BookOutlet.ca no matter who you like. Do you love romance? Thrillers? You can find them all at a great discount.

There’s even plenty of books for young children and tweens. I love that the Book Outlet has so many classics like Alice in Wonderland, one of my daughter’s favourite books. They also have a great selection of Disney books for a great deal.

If you’re stocking up on books, have a look at the site and and save on purchases and shipping.

Let me know what you are reading this month.

 

How to Survive Cold and Flu Season on a Budget

No one likes getting sick. This year, in the past week it seemed like a large number of my friends were battling cold and flu bugs. At our house, we were as well. It was no fun. No one likes waking up at 2 am in a coughing fit and no one likes taking their little one to the hospital for a brief stay. Both happened in our house last week.  So how can you survive cold and flu season on a budget?

With the reality being most of us take unpaid time off to battle the flu or cold, each bout will affect the pocketbook. So how can we best be ready? Prevention matters but when it happens it is best to listen to your body.

The Flu Shot

Flu shots have been proven to lessen symptoms or even help you get through the season flu-free. This year though there are several strains that are resistant to the shot so what is a family to do?

Rest

Do yourself and your work/school mates a favour and take the time to heal. Rest. One of the best things you can try to do is sleep. Sleep helps you to build your immunity system and helps fight germs. Sleep is a free way to help your body get better.

Wash Your Hands

Handwashing frequently especially in this season matters. Handwashing helps prevent illness but it also helps it from running through the family as well.

Drink Water

Water is good for you. It helps to flush out impurities. I have been drinking at least 2 litres a day of water. For me I have added a few drops of lemon essential oils to help flush toxins away. Even adding fresh lemon will help.

Eat Well

There are many foods that help fight food and colds.  Mushrooms, green tea, sweet potato and chicken soup are on the list. We keep cans of chicken noodle soup stocked just for sick days.

Stock Your Medicine Chest

There is nothing worse than having to do a run to the pharmacy when you feel terrible. I do quarterly checks on our basic meds and stock the cabinet when things are on sale. We buy just enough and I do check the expiry dates.   We keep Advil, Neo Citran, Vicks Vapour Rub, Gravol, and a few other medications on hand. Did you know you can often find these for sale? Remember to check your flyer apps like Flipp for sales and rebates. Other apps you may want to check include CheckOut 51 and Caddle.

We also buy Kleenex when it is on sale. Even after using about 3 boxes in our house last week I think I have a few left in my stash.

What are your favourite ways to save and battle a cold or the flu?

 

How to Best Start An Emergency Fund in 2018 Living Pay Cheque to Pay Cheque

Many Canadians are living pay cheque to pay cheque. It is a plain fact. If this is you, please know you are not alone. I’ve been there done that. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to start saving a bit of money in 2018, let us start with the best way to start an emergency fund in 2018 even when you are living pay cheque to pay cheque. Yes, it can be done.

The Reality Check

First up, before you can move forward, we have to look at our past. We have to look at our current and past habits. Can I challenge you to look at your budget if you have one? If you don’t have one you want one, stat! For me, the best way to do this was to track my spending. Write down every penny you are spending as a family. This may seem daunting at first but by carrying a small notebook with me, I was able to track my spending. You can do it too!

The Road Map

If you don’t already have a budget in place, this is where you start. Look at what you have been spending. Look at your priorities. I was surprised at how much I spent in certain areas in mindless ways. Every penny does matter when you are living pay cheque to pay cheque. Set your priorities, if savings is a priority that you really want go for it! Find areas you can cut or do less. Starting small is ok. Even $10 a week makes a difference over time.

If you need help on how to set a budget here are a couple of posts from friends of mine that helped me:

  1. 7 Steps to a Budget Made Easy

2. Gail’s Guide to Starting a Budget

Quick Start Your Savings

I know as I look around my home there are several things I am not using. Right now, there is that bread maker I got last Christmas and used twice, there is the old camera collection that is gathering dust, and the pile of books I have read. Take a look around your house, what if you sold these and started your nest egg, your emergency fund with the proceeds? Most of us have a few things we can sell for a profit. I use Kijiji when I have things to sell.  By selling even $200 in goods it gives you a starting balance.

Add to Your Income

For those of us who are parents, it can seem hard to find the time to add to our income. It isn’t always easy for anyone. You can freelance your skills if you have one. I know several friends who supplement their income writing for blogs and brands. I know some younger girls who babysit. Others I know dog walk. What could you do for a few hours each week to supplement your income? Can you ask for more hours at work? Use this income minus transportation costs to go straight into your emergency fund.

By taking these actions, I was able to start my own savings account when I was living on less than $26,000 a year in Toronto. It can be done. When there is a will there is a way. Let me know what are you doing to ensure you have an emergency fund?

 

 

 

Tips for Hosting the Best Holiday Dinner

 

Can you believe it, Christmas is just days away! There is so much to do!  If you’re like me, your mind starts racing… gift lists, shopping trips, recipe ideas, and there are more holiday dinners than you can count on both hands. Where do you start?

If you’re like me, hosting a holiday dinner are at the top of the list. How do you ensure they go off without a hitch? Here are a few simple tips and tricks that will make every meal a hit:

  1. Make a list and check it twice. There are great organizational apps (I like to think of them as my virtual assistant) that can help you prioritize. From stocking up your pantry and creating menu ideas to managing RSVP lists, storing these items in one place can help you organize and strike off those to-dos!  Plus, the feeling of accomplishment you get when you check an item off your list is always a bonus (whether it’s on paper or on your phone!)
  1. Get the fancy silverware and dishes ready. Holiday feasts and festive parties mean bringing out your best silverware and serving dishes. To refresh your silver, try Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. Just rub a paste of three-parts Arm & Hammer Baking Soda and one-part water onto the silver with a clean cloth or sponge. Then rinse thoroughly and your dinnerware will be sparkling-ready to impress your guests!
  1. Expect the unexpected. For that unexpected guest who drops by, not-so-holiday-specific items like stationary, pens and notebooks are a nice last-minute gifting idea that anyone will appreciate. Taking a non-holiday themed approach means items can be purchased well in advance of the holiday shopping rush.

  1. Keep messes to a minimum. Having a trusted stain fighter on-hand to tackle those holiday spills and stains is a must! My go-to products are the OxiClean MaxForce Foam Laundry Pre-Treater and MaxForce Spray Laundry Pre-Treater. Both can treat wine stains, gravy spills and stains from sticky fingers to keep linens and napkins table-ready for next season. The Pre-treaters can stand for up to a week before washing.
  1. Pamper yourself! Treat yourself to that festive latte, Santa-shaped cookie, or extra hour in bed without the guilt! You deserve it for all your hard work, and it may be just what you need to keep your spirits up and stay energized for your next dinner party!

What are your tips for easing dinner party prep and clean-up stress? I’d love to hear them! May you have a great holiday dinner with friends and family.

* this post has been sponsored by Church and Dwight and I have been a brand ambassador for them for the last 3 years. We love our Church and Dwight products! 

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft Online

Common sense tells us we are all at risk for identity theft? So how can you best protect yourself? Especially from online attacks?

There are some simple things you can to ensure your personal safety online.  Personally, I have had my wallet go missing and I hate to admit it has happened more than once. I know for me I got the sinking feeling and worried most about my identification. Since many of our lives and daily transactions are now done online, it is just as important to protect our online identities.

No one is exempt from online identity theft. We have seen thousands of people impacted each time a company gets compromised. Even the credit bureau, Equifax was recently compromised. Fraud is a real issue and it impacts many Canadians on a yearly basis. A couple of years ago Interac invited me to an evening out where I learned lots about the dark web and the real dangers that lurk at every turn. So how can we can we best protect ourselves from identity theft online? This is important to know as many of us right now are doing our Christmas shopping online.

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft Online

  1. Create a seperate shopping ID account. When you shop, do you use the same email address as all your social accounts? Don’t! Create a seperate account with very limited permissions. Use this for banking and shopping.
  2. Watch what you share online. In the age where many of our lives are online, don’t overshare personal info. You never know who is watching. Share what you would share if you were giving a speech with a megaphone.
  3. Sign up for a credit monitoring service and get alerts. Did you know you can get alerts every time  your card is used? Credit Karma offers a free service. This means if new credit is opened in your name you are alerted as well as any major changes even a creditor reporting late payment.
  4. Don’t carry non essential ID. Do you carry your SIN card? Stop! Carry what you need.
  5. Be careful where you store your credit card information. In the age of the internet of things it is easy to have your card info stored in many places. Be mindful where your information is being stored. It may not be that secure over time.

Remember an once of prevention helps especially when it comes to your credit.