Tested! Online grocery shopping.

Money saving strategy tested: Online grocery shopping.

I was tipped off to a great idea to save time and money: online grocery shopping. In Victoria, we have a number of grocery stores that offer this service with delivery ($4.95 for the store I chose) or pick-up. I won't say my first time was a success, so here's a review to learn from my mistakes.

The grocery store's online site is well laid out and creating an account was easy. I searched by sale items and also by department. I really needed milk, olive oil and some yoghurt drinks for the kids. $50 later, I had placed my order for pick-up the next day. There are two pick-up locations in town and I was going to be near one running errands.

The next day: I forgot to pick-up while I was nearby so when I remembered, I had to drive all the way across town to pick-up. You have to use the drive-through lane and buzz someone (I tried to park and go in) and my order wasn't found right away.

For me, it's questionable if I saved money; I enjoy grocery shopping and pick up things I see on sale, but I don't think I *splurge*. I did do the same "oh, it's on sale!" thing online that I do in the store. In this experience, I definitely didn't save time ordering online then driving across town and back to pick up when the same store is blocks from my house.

Bottom line: This is a fantastic resource for new moms (drive-through pick-up while baby is sleeping!) or anyone unable to get to the store because of mobility or time ($5 delivery!). It's also good for those who make a list and get distracted in the actual store.


*NEW* Fee-for-Service Cash-Flow Analysis

“For your financial health”  Do you need an Apple a Day for your finances? 

Quality clients are usually referred to us because they need a risk management solution (ex. life insurance after buying a house, disability insurance after starting a professional career) or an investment account (ex. an RESP for their children). When putting these solutions in place, the advisor is compensated by a commission and there is no payment made by the client. As part of the process to discover needs, a review of the financial situation is conducted.

More and more, there have been requests to provide detailed analysis or recommendations on things outside of these areas. Examples are being whether to purchase a rental home, buy back a pension after maternity leave, or how to optimize cash flow. This requires time and attention outside of the general review for insurance solutions or investment accounts.

Rather than turn down requests for budgeting and goal attainment help, we now offer a “For your financial health” budgeting process that allows us to do the cash-flow analysis and problem-solving.

One of my greatest fears...

I just listened to a webinar where a brave mama shared her story of battling breast cancer. Except she was 5 months pregnant when she was diagnosed. I mentioned the other day on facebook how one of my greatest fears is falling while holding my toddler (which happened) but that is a mini-fear compared to being told I have cancer while pregnant (I'm 6 months along now) and having to make a hard decision that affects two lives. Listening to this mom's story made me feel better (it worked out!) but I was crying within minutes. She had to wait until the last minute to start chemo and her baby was delivered by c-section 8 weeks early. She started chemo one week after her son was born (so for his first 4 weeks of life he was in NICU while mom was going to the treatment centre for chemo and then spending the rest of time with him).

Some of her costs included:

  • Hiring a live-in nanny for childcare and caregiving (in case she needed assistance)
  • Prescriptions -those not covered by MSP (ie. anti-nausea, special mouthwash, etc. if not covered by a group/private health plan or for the co-insurance). One of her injections (4x per week for 8 weeks) cost $300 per shot.
  • Wigs ($900 each)

She fortunately had Critical Illness Insurance and received a lump sum of money that lifted a huge burden off her shoulders. Not needing to worry about the immediate financial future (how to keep paying the mortgage, paying for the things above, losing her income while off work and waiting to satisfy the long-term disability requirement) was a huge burden lifted off her shoulders.

This is one of those stories that really drives home why I'm so passionate about Critical Illness Insurance [Globe and Mail article] and why I have three policies (different features) for myself and why I made sure there was coverage on the rest of my family as well.

As a Financial Planner, I look at the overall financial situations of clients and point out holes (spending too much on credit card interest; overcommitment to monthly financial commitments; lack of wills; exposure to risk in case of death, disability or illness). $1/day will get a healthy non-smoker in their 30s approximately $30,000 of Critical Illness Insurance coverage. Ask me for details for your situation so you at least have made a decision knowing your options.

Healthy Families Finance

This is based on a talk given at Healthy Families Day on May 10, 2014

Here are a few tips that can help families maintain financial security now, and for the future. Everyone’s situation is different, so keep in mind that financial planning is meeting your goals using your resources . It’s a fast ride, so hang on -I’m going to touch on Family finances, teaching kids about money, insurance, RESPs, retirement and the importance of writing down a plan and delicious apple pie.

Sometimes it feels like you need a giant calculator in this town. Victoria isn’t the cheapest city in Canada these days and can require some inventive number crunching. Everything from housing to food seems to cost more than it does in other towns. My dad likes to keep pointing out how much land and house we can buy in Martensville, Saskatchewan, compared to Victoria. Which doesn’t help much, dad. :D (And no, he lives here, not there).

As a mom of a one-year old with another one on the way, I’ve entered the world of having dependents - and I mean ones who really can’t help themselves, even though sometimes it feels like I’m taking care of my husband. :) All of a sudden (ok, I had about 9 months to prepare), there was another person I needed to clothe, feed, house, entertain and protect.

Here is the secret to how we stay financially stable: we spend less than we make. I know. It’s a shockingly easy concept but one that surprisingly few people follow. There’s a lot of credit card purchases and keeping up with the Joneses - and I won’t say I’m not guilty of this - but at the end of the month, if you’re spending more than you make, you’re going to fall behind. And it gets increasingly difficult to get out of that hole once you’ve fallen in.

According to the Victoria Real Estate Board, the median single family home in Victoria last month was $550,000. Even at low interest rates, many families are finding that home ownership isn’t in the cards in the immediate future. The 2010 median family income was $77,000, which translates into less than $400,000 for a home purchase, with a $50,000 down payment (a whole other issue). As a double-income family, you also need to factor in child care costs to boot. Fall 2013’s Child Care Resources & Referral Victoria stats show that the average daycare costs for a toddler are about $900/month. Remember how I talked about the big calculator? Raising kids isn’t a cheap endeavor, as this MoneySense article shows.

So, what’s a young family to do? Well, going back to my big secret tip - spend less than you make. I’ve seen pretty creative solutions here - moving back in with parents, taking on a homestay student, sharing childcare with another parent, working split shifts or evenings/weekends. Whatever you need to do to live the sustainable lifestyle you want and balance your priorities. It comes down to priorities and goals - home ownership may not be one of your goals but travel is - how are you getting to Mexico if you don’t have the cash? (And please don’t say your credit card!).

This doesn’t need to be a depressing topic but it does require discussion with your partner or family to agree on a financial goal and a financial plan. And the discussion shouldn’t stop with your partner - involve your kids. Show and teach them early that money doesn’t grow on trees. Think about the language you use. “We can’t afford it” may be true but doesn’t demonstrate to children the reasoning behind a decision. “We aren’t buying those cookies because our family food budget is for fruits and vegetables and meat. For a treat, we already bought ice cream. Would you prefer we traded ice cream for cookies?” You may not like the “B” word, so use “priorities” or “choices” instead. As a family, you choose to buy/do X instead of Y. Children need to learn how to prioritize in life and having the skills to make financial decisions early will serve them well later. Children see everything and will watch you make impulse purchases and use the credit/debit card. Using cash when possible (I know, it sounds archaic) and vocalize why you are/aren’t purchasing something sends a message to impressionable young minds.

As an insurance broker, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention something about insurance. In a nutshell - if you have dependents, you should think about the financial impact of your sudden income loss. This includes if something happened to your spouse - even if one of you isn’t earning an income. One calculation of a stay-at-home mom’s “salary” (if she earned one for the work she does) is approximately $60,000. So really consider the financial value of all parents. And by income loss, I’m not just talking about insuring against death with life insurance but also disability and critical illnesses, like cancer. Talk to an insurance professional to explore your options so at least you are informed.

Almost as hot a topic in some parent circles as vaccinations - RESPs are next on the list. I know many a parent determined to set up an RESP the second baby is born. Which is admirable - education costs are not getting any cheaper. A baby born in 2013 is looking at $140,000 for a 4-year post-secondary degree in 18 years. When I was interviewed about this last year and my plan to save, I pretty much told the reporter my son was getting a paper route at age 10. I’ve also started an RESP which is a great vehicle for savings. The government allows you to contribute money into a plan that grows tax-sheltered until it is withdrawn (at which point, it is taxed in your child’s hands - which should be a low tax rate since they are a student and likely not earning much of an income). Some great things about RESPs are that anyone can open one (parents, grandparents, friends, aunts/uncles) and the government will give you FREE money. First, there’s a 20% match, so you can get $500 a year put in the plan for about 14 years then there’s a $1,200 bonus the year your child turns 6 AND if you’re low income, there’s some extra money you may be entitled to as well. And did I mention it all grows tax-sheltered? This means there’s no tax to pay until the money is withdrawn. You can open an RESP through your bank or a private investment company or advisor. Be sure to ask lots of questions about fees and restrictions if opening an account that has a set-up fee or promises bonuses.

Besides saving for our children’s education, which many of us do as soon as we can, something many of us think about too late is our retirement plan. I know, it seems crazy to be talking retirement when clearly I’m so far away from it, but it’s one of those things that needs to be thought about and started early. The sooner you start, the faster your money will grow, it’s like a snowball - it’ll keep accumulating the farther it gets down the hill. The farther it has to go - the more that will accumulate. If you wait until age 45 to start saving, you’re not giving yourself a lot of time to make your money work for you. The magic of compound interest is that interest is paid on top of interest. And the magic of a registered account (like an RSP or TFSA) is that the interest or growth isn’t taxed while it’s in the plan.

A quick review of an RSP vs. TFSA - a registered retirement savings plan is made up of pre-tax contributions - if you use already taxed money, you’ll get a credit at the end of the year and possibly a refund on your tax return. A Tax-free savings account uses after-tax money. The major difference is that when you withdraw the money - you’ll pay tax on the RSP money and none on the TFSA money. The contribution amounts are different as well: RSP maximums are 18% of last year’s income (up to maximum of $24,270 for 2014 - although you probably have contribution room from previous years you can use - check your NOA), TFSA maximums are $5,500/yr and does not require any earned income (anyone over age 18 gains room).

Both accounts tax-shelter your money and both accounts allow you to invest in GICs, stocks, bonds and mutual funds, therefore, you can make the exact same return on your money within each plan and have the same investment in each as well, if you wanted. Which account is right for you depends on your situation, goals, and income.

To summarize - spend less than you make, set a good example for your kids, protect your income and save early to secure a financial future but above all, have a written financial plan to guide you.

Think about making an apple pie - you probably know what ingredients are required but if you just wing it in the kitchen (like I often try to do), when it comes to baking, you often end up with some sort of mess. Having a recipe to follow (aka “financial plan” in this example!) results in a much better result. And apple pie tastes more delicious when it’s carefully made instead of thrown together.

The cost of love...

"The Beatles may have crooned “money can’t buy me love”, but it turns out those warm and fuzzy feelings do have a financial impact – $45,151.88, to be precise." - Ratesupermarket.ca

The research team at Ratesupermarket.ca has determined that the 2014 total cost for of the average 1 year of dating, 1 year of engagement plus the average Canadian wedding weighs in at a hefty $45,000+.

I did a quick tally of my just under 2 years of dating and wedding and guesstimated our total was approximately $25,000; my husband paid for most of our dates (I let him wine, dine and woo me) and, although I got the ring appraised for insurance purposes, I don't know exactly how much was spent.

Our wedding details are quite precise (you can read the nitty gritty here) and come in at less than the average wedding (as a 25-person wedding should).

Now, I wouldn't be very helpful unless I could share some tips on how to keep your love total under the average so you can also achieve your other goals.


I am a big fan of keeping the dinner dates for special occasions. Some great dates that don't break the bank are:

  • Coffee and a walk along Dallas Road
  • Ice skating at a rec centre
  • Billiards/darts and a drink
  • Hiking in East Sooke Park
  • Picnic in Beacon Hill Park
  • Movie marathon weekend
  • Wine tour on the Penninsula (check out Victoria Spirits, too!) or brewery tour
  • Tourist in your own Hometown (March), Fringe Fest (August)
  • Dine around Town (Feb/March)
  • Bowling at Langford Lanes
  • Get "Fired Up" painting ceramics


Engagement rings aren't one of those things you want to cheap out on, however, if you're not dead set on a giant diamond ring, you could drop some hints about other semi-precious stones you want. Or help with the research, consider an already-made design vs. custom, etc.

As for the engagement party, this can be a simple get together at one of the parents' house. Or skip a big formal affair (we did), our parents had already met and we didn't see the need of spending more cash that we could use for the wedding (which was only 7 weeks away!). We invited both sets of parents over for dinner and surprised them with the news.


There are dozens (hundreds?) of blogs dedicated to budget-friendly frugal weddings. Top ways to spend less on your one special day and have more $ for the rest of your life:

  • Buy your wedding dress used. I ended up buying two dresses and having one given to me (all brand-new); total cost was $500 (two were from consignment stores, never worn, one from a designer). I wore one for the ceremony, one for the party and the third I'd bought too far in advance and didn't fit when the time came. Bonus - sell it after!
  • Serve your own alcohol. If your venue allows, you can do u-brew beer/wine/cider and save a ton of cash.

The rest of your life

Don't stop after the wedding! The wooing and treating your honey continues. Make sure to get away for date nights (see date ideas above!), make a card/collage or write a love letter to your honey on anniversaries. Never underestimate the power of coffee or breakfast in bed to show someone you love them or a flower picked on the way home. And don't forget that kisses are free.

Why I chose to get insurance for my baby

Why I chose to insure my baby

When I first started in the insurance industry I shared the same view as my mentor: life insurance isn’t necessary on a child as there isn’t the same financial loss as when an adult breadwinner passes away. While this is true in one sense, I now disagree - even if you don’t rely on someone for an income, the impact of their premature death can have significant financial consequences. But I don't have insurance for that reason (that as a parent, you can't even think about) - I'm thinking about the future.

When my son was born, I registered him online: applying for his SIN, birth certificate and MSP (basic health insurance) as well as registering him for the work health and dental benefits plan. When he was 30 days old I completed the applications for his Life Insurance and Critical Illness (CI) Insurance. There are different reasons why parents choose to insure their child and both made sense to me:

1. If my child got sick or passed away before me, there will very likely be a financial impact

2. By getting coverage now, no matter what my child’s health in the future, he will at least have some basic life and CI insurance.

We’ve all read the stories about families who have kids at BC Children’s Hospital and the subsequent fundraisers, charity events and donation collections. Unfortunately, in many cases, the money that comes in from generous family, friends and strangers doesn’t cover the full cost of parents taking time off work, traveling to/from the mainland, staying in a hotel or renting an apartment, childcare for other children, modifying their home after the hospital stay, comfort items (like a special chair, toys, a trip) for the child, etc. If anything ever happened to my son (and no one likes thinking about this), I would do whatever necessary to help him get better. And going to work would be at the bottom of the priority list. Receiving cash after a Critical Illness diagnosis could be a gamechanger. In the terribly unlikely event of me outliving my son, again, taking the time I need away from an office is important. So is donating money to a charity on his behalf or setting up a scholarship, as examples.

The nicer way to think about children’s insurance is the ability to have it in place for the future.

Children's insurance policies can be fully paid for in 20 years, leaving them health and life insurance that NO ONE PAYS FOR for the rest of their life. Do I think there's a pretty good chance that over the next 90 years or so, my son may suffer a critical illness? Unfortunately, statistics aren't in his favour. Do I think there's a chance he will die one day? Sadly, yes, it's still 100% (unless someone figures out how to make us immortal).

No parent wants to think about this but those that plan for their children's future are giving them a great foundation.

Baby X arrived!


Baby X was born end of January. My husband and I are thrilled and can't wait to learn more as we join other parents on the journey of child-raising! -Alyx

A 15-week mat leave

One of the hot questions I get asked these days is about EI maternity leave for employees and how long I'll be off work. As a self-employed business owner, I've decided to take about 3 months off (then 3-4 months part-time). Having no income for the next many months will be tough but I chose self-employment specifically for the flexibility of being able to take time off and modify my hours for my family as it grows. Many Canadian woman are fortunate enough to take an entire year off from work to care for baby and find their routine while still receiving income and knowing their job is secure when they return to work. There are varying maternity leave benefits around the world and we are lucky compared to our neighbours down south who only get about 12 weeks leave and job security.

Canadian employees can apply for paid time off under the Employment Insurance (EI) program: 15 weeks for mom and 35 weeks for either mom or dad/other parent (or the 35 weeks can be shared between them). 55% of earnings is covered (up to $501/week or just over $25,000/year - taxable). Some employers even do a top-up (ex. 85% of usual earnings for the first 5 months). Remember that EI benefits are taxable and many parents find that there is tax owing the following year as not enough is withheld from the EI payments. Be sure to request additional tax be withheld or be prepared to either pay some tax or contribute to RSPs before the end of February the following year.


If your company has an HR department, this is the first place to start, as well as asking co-workers who have walked the parental path before you. If you are the trailblazer and work in a small business, calling Service Canada (1-800-206-7218) directly and being familiar with the basics online will help you coordinate with your employer. Discuss how long you plan to work - but be realistic that leaving  a month early may be financially unaffordable and working up until due date may be physically impossible. Note that there is up to 15 weeks sick leave available pre-due date if you're ordered to stop work for medical reasons (but you cannot plan to take this and must be under Doctor's orders) and that there is a 2-week waiting period. Benefits are also paid in arrears.

Sign up now for My Service Canada Account which allows you to track your benefits online.

Business Owners

A self-employed opt-in program for EI was introduced a couple years ago that allowed certain benefits to be claimed. However, there is a one-year waiting period and once you claim, you can never opt-out. I have not yet met a self-employed person who has registered. My personal opinion is that individual planning and insurance is preferable to relying on the small weekly EI benefit (ie. saving for the time off for maternity leave, having individual disability insurance in case of inability to work and emergency savings). The math works out if you did want to collect parental EI but the factors I considered were the increasing EI premiums, time value of money and the reality that most business owners wouldn't have a business to return to if they disappeared for a year.

The numbers:

Annual cost for the self-employed EI program: $891 ($1.88 on every $100 to max income of $47,400 in 2013)

Maternity leave maximum EI benefits (taxable): $7,515

Parental leave maximum: $17,535

Sickness/Disability leave: $7,515

Compassionate care leave: $3,000

You can do the math about how many of these benefits you may access vs. how long you expect to pay (once claimed, you must continue paying EI premiums when working again; many of us will be working into our 70s...do you still want to be paying EI premiums then?).

 Plan plan plan

Losing a significant amount of my income for half the year will absolutely be felt in our house. By preparing early and reviewing our budget often, we think we'll be ok. Setting our priorities and watching our spending habits closely in the last few months of pregnancy has given us an idea of how things may go. There are lots of helpful blogs and articles about what other families did in their pre-baby countdown and other helpful tips.

No matter what your situation, hopefully you can choose the time off you feel comfortable with, and can afford, to spend time with your newest bundle of joy!


* This information is for reference only and your tax/financial/legal situation should be discussed with your advisors

Happy New Year!

Friends and readers: Happy 2013! I hope this year is prosperous for you and full of joy and love.

Many people I talk to are frustrated that they can't get ahead.  Money management, unfortunately, is something that few of us are taught and many never learn. There are lots of basic tips that remind us how simple it really is; however, just because it's simple, doesn't mean it's easy.

My mantra is that financial planning means meeting your goals through proper management of your resources. This means you must write down your goals and know exactly how much money is flowing in and out of your bank account. Start there - many are surprised at what they actually spend on entertainment/food/activities.

There are lots of things you can do to prepare for a successful year financially, below are a couple of my past blog posts that may give you inspiration or ideas.

Best wishes,


How do you value your time and money? (Feb/12)

Debt repayment or saving? (Feb/11)

The money details of our wonderful wedding

Here's the post and answer many of you have waited for - how much does a financial planner who encourages frugalness spend on her wedding? Well, I'd sheepishly say more than I thought, however, hear me out for some important points.

1. Husband and I had a discussion about budget and how to pay for the wedding. Our savings were allocated for a house (which we almost bought weeks before the wedding to beat the new mortgage rules, just to add to the excitement!) so whatever we spent needed to be covered within the next couple months. We also discussed those other questions in my last blog post.

2. We decided to make the ceremony/reception family-only and and get married sooner rather than later. With only weeks until "I do" we figured the short timeline would cut out the "oh, it would be really awesome to have __________." <insert: circus, helicopter, personalized anything, etc.>

3. We made the decision to do it as economically and nice as possible. What does this mean? We chose to stay at Poet's Cove on Pender Island. This was not economical. But it was nice (like, really, really nice). We bought our own food and wine and my fabulous brother-in-law, assisted by my sister and family, prepared it all. We couldn't have been luckier.

4. We were blessed with lots of help from family as well as financial consideration. This wedding would not have been as wonderful without the help of the Gilgunn family, some key friends, and financial gifts from both families.

5. We did not go into debt. Thanks to careful planning, help from family/friends, and hosting international homestay students, the wedding was completely paid for within two weeks of our "I do's".

So, without further ado, here's how it all shook down:

I planned the wedding in three weeks. Honestly, that's all it took. Fortunately for me, I already had spoken with a marriage commissionaire (someone I knew through work), a cake maker (friend-of-a-friend), a sommelier and chef (sister & bro-in-law) and a dress maker (local designer who has made dresses for me in the past ). We had 24 guests (mostly family, closest friends who helped out with transportation, hair, make-up).

Could we have done the wedding cheaper? Absolutely. Especially if we didn't know there would be some cash given to us. Would I change anything at all? Absolutely not. My Pender wedding was just perfect.

Total wedding cost: ~$7,500

Wedding Costs

Rent vs. Buy - the ultimate debate

In cities such as Victoria, BC, buying a place to live requires a large amount of cash (via the lottery, generous parents or equity in your previous home) and the stomach for a very large mortgage. Some say that housing prices are completely overvalued and some cities are severely unaffordable to live in (like Vancouver) and it sure seems that way in this town. Speaking with a mortgage broker is the best way to determine whether you can even qualify to be a homeowner but if they show you how you can squeak into the market, you may want a second opinion. Calculators such as Renting vs. Buying a Home are quite popular with owners and renters to see if you should be in the others' shoes. It shows your total costs between buying (mortgage + expenses) and renting. It assumes you invest the difference between your rent and mortgage...if you don't have the money to invest, then you probably don't have the money to buy. *Make sure you don't check the Federal tax boxes - in Canada there is no capital gains tax on the sale of your principle residence and the mortgage interest is not deductible. The government provides handy calculators as well.

"Shall I rent or shall I buy?" is a hot question these days as housing prices continue to climb (I've been hearing talk of a bubble burst for a while...I have yet to see it, but when I do, my cash will be ready!) and rent seems to be fairly stable (and affordable).

Ben Rabidoux, financial adviser, real estate expert and author of the website The Economic Analyst (www.TheEconomicAnalyst.com) says it best: "The reality is that the majority of new home 'owners' are still renters; they've just gone from renting space to renting money."