Offering helpful financial and lifestyle advice for everyday Canadians

Archive for September, 2013

Job Hunting & Preparation for New Canadians

This article, originally posted on canadianimmigrant.ca, outlines seven key steps to finding a job.

Many people come to Canada to create a better life for themselves and their families. However, there can often be obstacles in the way such as finding a new job. Although immigrants may be highly qualified in their own country, their credentials may not be recognized in Canada; the fact that they do not have Canadian experience might pose another roadblock.

So what’s a newcomer to do? Some newcomers choose to start sending out resumés the minute they arrive, without really understanding the labour situation in Canada. They often end up frustrated and jobless. Newcomers can increase their chances of job search success by approaching it in a strategic, step-by-step manner.

In the following series, we will focus on each of the seven steps that can help a newcomer get hired.

These steps are:

1. Organize yourself. Ensure you have a phone number with voicemail and access to a computer. If you can’t afford to purchase a computer right away, you can set up a free email account on Hotmail or Yahoo and use an internet café or library to view your messages.

2. Assess your skills. If you have a degree from your country of origin, find out if it is recognized in Canada. There are credential evaluation services available, such as the International Credential Evaluation Service in B.C or World Education Services – Canada in Ontario. There may be a cost attached to this. You may also want to consider obtaining some additional training at a Canadian college or university. If your English needs work, ESL training is a must. You won’t get a job in your field if you can’t speak the language. If you are a doctor, engineer or other professional that is governed by a licensing body, you will have to become licensed before you can work in your field, but such licensing bodies in Canada may not accept credentials from other countries.

3. Research. You will need to learn how to create a resumé, cover letter and so on. Also, where do you start looking for a job? What companies are hiring for what positions? The internet is always a great source of information and there are many programs available to help newcomers learn how to adapt their resumés to Canadian style.

4. Network. Be sure to conduct informational interviews with people in your field — this will give you a personal perspective and some new contacts. Join associations, attend events, meet new people. Introduce yourself and connect with people in your field.

5. Find a mentor. It’s important to find someone who can coach or mentor you and share information about your industry in Canada. Many professional associations offer this type of “buddy” program, where a seasoned member guides a junior member.

6. Volunteer. A great way to get your foot in the door is to volunteer your time. Many organizations such as non-profits rely on volunteers to do many different tasks. Call around and see what’s out there. Check out Volunteer Canada or Volunteer Vancouver, or find available volunteer postings in B.C. and Alberta on http://www.govolunteer.ca. This will give you an opportunity to meet people and start networking, as well as gain Canadian experience.

7. Apply. Send out job applications and resumés to organizations who are hiring in your field. Be sure to include a cover letter indicating why you would be the ideal candidate for the position. Continue networking and booking informational interviews. You are well on your way to finding a new job!

[end of article]

 

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Moving to Canada: Financial Advice

This video from RBC details some of the concerns and issues faced by new Canadians. It also provides advice on opening a bank account, transfering money between countries, building credit and more.

Caring for Elderly Parents – Money Management

Caroline Tapp-McDougall outlines some key things to consider when managing your aging parent’s money. Original article from Caregiver Solutions Magazine.

Managing Your Parent’s Money

When it comes to finances, a typical caregiver arranges bill paying, bank deposits, insurance and benefit plans, savings and investment decisions, tax preparation, housing and daycare.

We know that caregiving can be physically and emotionally exhausting, so be smart and reduce the financial stress ahead of time.  Consider taking the following steps before an older relative becomes ill or disabled:

  • Assess your loved one’s financial situation by creating a net-worth statement, which is a simple listing of all assets minus all liabilities (or debts.)  Necessary information is often difficult to extract from elders given the sensitive nature of financial matters, so be prepared for surprises (positive or negative.)
  • Ask for personal and financial documents.  Your main issue is to know what documents to look for and where to find them (see know where to find.)  By having this knowledge, you can protect your elder’s assets, including dividends, interest, insurance, pensions, rental income and the contents of any safety deposit boxes.
  • Obtain access to banking and brokerage accounts by becoming a co-signer on joint accounts.  This will enable you to write cheques or withdraw funds to cover the cost of care in case of a short-term emergency or long-term disability.
  • Consider hassle-free automatic payments for recurring bills.  Arranging for water, electric and other utility bills, along with mortgage, TV and telephone expenses, to be paid electronically out of your loved one’s bank account.
  • Arrange direct deposit of pension and benefit cheques.  It is a safer, more convenient alternative, and it means no delays in getting funds deposited, no cheques lost in the mail and nothing misplaced or forgotten at home.
  • Review insurance coverage.  Often, our elders buy too much insurance or the wrong kind.  Make sure that your parents have adequate home and auto insurance as well as health, disability and long-term care plans.
  • Encourage savings and prudent spending.  Recognizing our longer life spans for and the rising cost of living, it’s wise to make a detailed monthly budget and a long-term financial plan.
  • Ask a financial planner or accountant to function in the role of mediator.

Create a healthy environment for dialogue and ensure that the situation is being looked at objectively.  A trusted outsider will often bluntly explain all of the possible options (with no hidden agendas) and can play an important role in facilitating decision-making.

It is easier to cope with any crisis with proper planning.  Smart caregivers will make sure that financial matters are in order so that energy can be focused on sensitive medical, emotional and caregiving issues.

Know where to find… When caring for your parents, you’ll want the following documents accessible.  Once you collect and organize this information, keep it in a safe place.

  • Banking information (there may be more than one bank account)
  • Loan records (to whom and how much)
  • Copies of leases or rental agreements (car, condo, apartment, appliances, furnace, hot water tank)
  • Provincial health card and other government health records
  • Insurance policies (health, life)
  • Investments (RRSP, stocks, etc.)  Statements and original certificates.
  • Pension (government and private) information
  • Mortgage on home and cottage or investment properties
  • Wills and powers of attorney for property and personal care
  • Commitments for charitable donations
  • Birth certificate
  • Insurance policy numbers
  • Passport
  • Veterans Affairs Information
  • Club memberships of subscriptions
  • Relatives’ addresses and phone numbers

[end of article]

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Personal Loans – Examples and Advice

Here’s a very useful article from moneyproblems.ca that explains the basics of personal loans, and how to pick the right one for you.

What is a personal loan? That’s easy – its money that an individual borrows personally. What does it look like? That’s tough – personal loans come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

Some examples of personal loans might be:

  • Your parents loan you $1,000 so that you can pay first and last month’s rent
  • A bank loans you $15,000 to pay off your credit cards (this is also called a consolidation loan)
  • A finance company loans you $25,000 to buy a car (this is also called a car loan)

All personal loans have one thing in common: the loan is for a fixed amount. (In our first example, your parents loaned you $1,000). This is different from a line of credit where you have authorization to use a certain amount of credit or a credit card where you have a spending limit.

Other characteristics that are usually found in personal loans include:

1.Repayment terms: how much and how often will you make a payment towards this personal loan? In the first example, your parents might not set repayment terms – “just pay us back when you can”. In most cases, the lender(the person or business that is granting you the loan) will set specific repayment terms. The most common is a requirement to make payments once a month, on the same day every month.

2.Interest rate: interest is the term used to describe the amount that the lender is charging you to borrow the money. It is almost always set as a percentage of the amount borrowed on an annual (also called per annum) basis. Using our second example, the bank might loan you $5,000 at a rate of 10%. That means that the bank is charging you 10% of $5,000 adjusted for the amount of time the money is outstanding. Go to our page on interest for a more detailed explanation of interest rates.

3.Security: often, lenders require people borrowing money to pledge things that they own as collateral for a loan. In the event that you fail to make the required payments, the lender may have the right to seize and sell the item pledged to pay off the debt. Go to our page on security for more detailed information on security. Its important to note that not all personal loans are secured. Lenders only ask for security for large loans and in situations where they have concerns about a borrowers ability to repay the debt.

4.Guarantors/co-signers: a guarantor and/or co-signer is someone who pledges to repay your debt if you are unable. Not all personal loans have guarantors or co-signers. Like security, lenders usually request guarantors for large loans and in situations where they have concerns about a borrowers ability to repay a debt.

Lets go back to our original personal loan examples and add some details based on the characteristics set out above.

  • Your parents loan you $1,000 so that you can pay first and last month’s rent

The fixed amount of this loan is $1,000. If your parents said, “just pay us back when you can” then there would be no repayment terms. There probably wouldn’t be any interest or security or guarantors either.

  • A bank loans you $15,000 to pay off your credit cards. This is also called a consolidation loan.

The fixed amount of this loan is $15,000. Typical terms for this type of loan might be repayment on a monthly basis for the next 4 years (48 months) at 10 % interest. If the bank had concerns about your ability to repay the debt they might ask for security, although for this type of loan they usually prefer a co-signer (someone to pay if you cannot).

  • A finance company loans you $25,000 to buy a car. This is also called a car loan.

The fixed amount of this loan is $25,000. Typical terms for this type of loan might be repayment on a monthly basis for the next 5 years at 9 % interest and as security for the loan, the finance company would register a lien on the car. A lien is the legal term used to describe the finance company’s claim on your car if you don’t repay the debt. In some cases, if the lender is concerned about your ability to repay, they might ask for a co-signor, even though they have security.

Recall that we said that personal loans come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. It would be impossible to cover all of the variations available in the market place today. Go to our links page for financial institutions and spend some time viewing the websites for the companies that are listed. This should give you an appreciation of just how many different types of loans are available today.

If you are thinking about applying for a personal loan, we’d like to offer some advice:

1.Think twice. Do you need something badly enough to justify borrowing for its purchase? Interest can be very expensive.

2.Self-assess. How much can you afford to pay every month? Have you prepared a monthly budget? How long are you willing to make payments? Your answers to these questions will determine how much you may comfortably borrow.

3.Credit Report. What’s your credit rating? Do you make all of your required payments on time? Have you bounced any cheques in the last year? Have you failed to repay an amount that you owed? A bad credit rating will seriously impair your ability to borrow without security and/or a co-signer.

4.Shop around. If you determine that borrowing is the thing to do, if you have the ability to repay and if your credit rating is good, shop around before you sign any contract to borrow money. A loan is no different from anything else that you might buy. If one financial institution will approve you for a loan, odds are, so will a second. Its okay to negotiate for lower interest, longer repayment periods, or any other aspect of the loan that you might like to change.

Remember: all loans must be paid back, so only use credit when it is absolutely necessary.

[end of article]

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Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill

written by Erin Huffstetler, originally posted on about.com
Simple Ways to Cut the Cost of Owning a Cell Phone

Does your monthly cell phone bill send you into shock? It doesn’t have to. Here are fourteen ways to save money on your cell phone bill.

Make Your Calls for Free

Get more mileage out of your minutes by making free calls whenever you can. Viber, Skype Mobile and Textfree are all free apps that allow you to call anyone else who has the app for free.

Track Your Talk Time

Do you go over your minutes each month? Then, it’s time to start tracking your talk time. Sign up with overmyminutes.com, (a free service) and you’ll receive an e-mail or text message to let you know when you’re about to run out of minutes.

Use the Same Plan as Friends and Family

Many cell phone service providers offer free in-network calls or allow you to choose a small group of in-network friends and family that you can call for free. So, get all of your most-called people on one plan, and you could save big.

Don’t Use Your Cell Phone for Toll-Free Calls

Toll-free calls aren’t free when you make them from a cell phone; so save your 1-800 calls for times when you access to a landline. After all, being put on hold is painful enough when you aren’t paying for it by the minute.

Don’t Use 4-1-1

Dial 4-1-1 from a cell phone, and it could cost you $1 or more. Crazy! Fortunately, you can skip the charge and still get the information that you need by calling 1-800-GOOG-411, a free 4-1-1 service provided by Google.

Another free 4-1-1 number to try:
1-800-free411

Bundle Services

Move all of your services – cell phone, cable/ satellite, Internet and home phone to one provider, and you’re likely to be rewarded with a bundled service discount.

Go Prepaid

If you only use your cell phone for occasional calls, a prepaid plan may be the cheapest service option for you. Shop around, and you could spend as little as $20 every three months. Now that’s a deal!

Pick a Plan that Matches Your Talk Times

Do you make a lot of calls in the early evenings? On the weekends? Mid-day? Examine your phone habits; then, pick a plan that best matches them.

Switch to Unlimited Texting

Text messages can cost 10-cents a piece (or more) to send and receive. Youch! If you do a lot of text messaging, a plan with unlimited text messages is definitely the way to go.

Use a Free Texting Service

Or go one better, and switch to free texting. Heywire and Textfree are two free apps that allow you to send texts and pictures for free.

Ditch the Extras

Phone replacement insurance, road side assistance, GPS, ringtone downloads, games, premium voicemail, data plans – there are lots of cell phone extras to choose from, but in the end they all do the same thing: add to your monthly cell bill. Stick to the basics, and you’ll receive a more basic bill.

Be Realistic About Your Phone Use

When choosing a phone plan, people generally do one of two things: choose too small of a plan or choose too big of a plan. Be realistic about how often you’ll use your phone, and you’ll avoid paying more than you need to for service.

Pick a Plan with Rollover Minutes

If you’ve determined that a minute-based plan is best for you, choose one that allows you to rollover unused minutes from month to month. After all, you’ve paid for those minutes, so you should get to keep them.

Minimize Your Data Useage

If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, it pays to watch your usage. Start by downloading, Onavo’s free apps to track your usage and compress data. Then, turn off your mobile data connection, so apps can’t connect (and drain your bandwidth) without your realizing it. If you’re really serious about minimzing your bill, only turn your data connection back on when free wi-fi isn’t available.

For specific instructions on how to turn off the mobile data on your phone, just Google “how to turn off mobile data connection” and the type of phone that you have.

Snag an Employee Discount

If you or someone in your family works for a large company with a cell plan, you could be eligible for a discount on your personal line(s).

Grab a Senior Discount

Over the age of 55? Then, you may be eligible for a senior plan.

Tip: Ask your provider if they have a senior discount. Often times it’s just unadvertised.

Avoid Contracts

Cell phone companies try to lure you into a two-year contract with the promise of a free phone, but did you know that they’ll also charge you more per month than the people who buy their own phones? It’s true. Increase your bargaining power (and maintain your ability to switch providers), by buying your own phone whenever you need a replacement.

Switch to a Local-Only Plan

If you don’t use your cell phone to make long distance calls (and you don’t use it to make calls when you travel), shop around for a local-only plan. They’ll be considerably cheaper (and more tailored to your needs).

Only Use Your Phone for Emergencies

Did you know that you can use a cell phone to dial 9-1-1, even when it’s not connected to a service plan? It’s true. Just make sure cellular 9-1-1 service is available in your area, and you can keep a cell phone on hand for emergencies without having to foot a monthly bill.

Rely on Your Landline More

Local calls on a landline? Free. Local calls on a cell phone? Not so free. Try to make more of your local calls from your home phone, and you’ll spend less for your phone time.

Block Third Party Charges

If you aren’t in the habit of purchasing games, apps and ringtones for your phone, consider having all third party charges blocked. This will prevent shady companies from tacking fradulent charges onto your bill – a nasty practice known as cramming.

Need to allow third party charges to be able to do everything you want to with your phone? Just be sure to go over your bill carefully each month. If there are ever any charges that you don’t understand, call your provider up and ask about them. They’ll happily remove any charges that don’t belong.

Ask for a Better Deal

One thing you can be sure of: Your service provider doesn’t want to lose you to the competition. So, ask for a better deal, and you’ll probably get it.

[end of article]

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Consumerology Report

Consumerology Report

What Canadian consumers are thinking and doing in 2013.

Tips to Save Money on Gas

The article “How to Save Money on Gas” from WikiHow gives some great advice for being prudent about gas and your car.

Gas prices keep going up, and the money in our wallet keeps evaporating more quickly. There are many ways you can spend less money on gas and reduce your overall fuel consumption. But, you must think it through and begin formulating new plans! One technique that has been around for a while but has drawn more attention recently is hypermiling. However, use your head because some hypermiling techniques are illegal and extremely dangerous.

1. Change those spark plugs often! Platinum spark plugs may claim to last 100,000 miles, but they have been known to foul up at just 75,000 miles. Spark plugs are relatively inexpensive and (depending on the vehicle) easy to replace. If you’re not that handy or mechanically inclined, read some auto repair books or be-friend a mechanic.

2. Limit your driving. This article includes ideas such as carpooling, combining trips and taking the first parking spot you find.

3. Find good gas prices. This article offers tips about making sure you are paying a competitive price for the gas you do buy.

4. Take care of your car. A properly maintained vehicle will run more efficiently and give you better mileage, which saves you money in gas.

5. Fill up efficiently. This involves three things:    Fill the tank full. If you need to fill up, fill up all the way. The more money you try to save by adding $10 today and then $20 tomorrow will be wasted since each time you will have to travel to the station and wait for a pump. Instead, do it all at once to save time and money.

Don’t top up your tank between fills. It is wasted money and bad for the environment because it invariably forces liquid fuel into the evaporative emissions system where it overwhelms circuits that are supposed to only route fuel tank vapors to the engine while it is running and can be burned.

Wait until you have a quarter tank but don’t push this any further. Doing this can extend your gas mileage because you are hauling a lighter fuel load. It also gives you the opportunity to buy more gas if you run across a bargain. However, in cold weather, you run an increased risk of condensation in the fuel tank. Running a car with less than a quarter tank can shorten the life of the electric fuel pump and running on empty will often destroy the pump.

6. Top off the air in the tires every few weeks to the car manufacturer’s recommended pressure. This is best done when the tires are cold (have not been driven on more than a mile or so) — it is proper for them to have a few psi higher pressure after extensive driving, but filling them hot should generally be avoided unless they are very low on air to avoid inaccuracy. Excessive pressure adds very little efficiency and can cause bad handling and uneven tire wear. Some gas stations, notably some Sheetz gas stations, have air pumps that are free to use and automatically inflate the tires to a pressure set on the pump. These are very convenient. (If an automatic pump seems to be adding an unexpectedly large amount of air, double-check its progress with a hand air gauge to avoid overfilling.)

Buy a different car

1. Buy a diesel. Some diesel cars offer mileage comparable to popular hybrids. Getting a diesel car also allows for use of bio-diesel or even waste vegetable oil (WVO/SVO) fuel. Though diesel pricing can vary widely from traditional petrol.

2. Buy a hybrid. Not only do hybrids give you immediate savings at the pump, the U.S. government and your local state offer tax breaks for people who use gas-saving cars. Federal deductions for using gas-saving cars can be as high as $2,000, but check before buying to see if they’re still in effect. Also, check with your insurance company because Hybrids have higher insurance rates.

3. Buy a smaller car. Generally speaking, smaller cars are lighter and get better mileage.

4. Pay more attention to the torque specification than horsepower when evaluating a vehicle for purchase. Many engines produce maximum torque at a rarely used RPM. An engine that produces maximum torque in the range of 2200 to 3000 RPM will yield usable power. An engine operating at its torque peak will be more efficient.

5. Buy a motorcycle or scooter instead of a car. They are cheaper and often get 70 MPG or more. Riding gear is available for most weather conditions. A good example is the Kawasaki EX250, which costs about $3,000, gets 60-70 MPG at highway speeds, and can go 0-60 MPH in under 6 seconds!

Driver smarter

1. Avoid idling. While idling, your car gets exactly 0 mile per gallon while starting the car uses the same amount as idling for 6 seconds. Park your car and go into the restaurant rather than idling in the drive-through. Idling with the air conditioning on also uses extra fuel. Also, avoid going so fast that you have to brake for someone. Whenever you brake, you waste the gas it took to get going that fast.

2. Plan your trips in advance. This can prevent wasting fuel and wasting time. Plan to use alternative routes. Often back roads can prevent you from stopping at traffic lights and more importantly sitting in traffic jams. Try to schedule your trips and errands when traffic is lighter.

3. Use a global positioning system (GPS) to help you navigate and find the fastest and shortest distance to your destination. Avoiding hills and stops will increase your gas mileage.

4. Drive at a consistent speed. Avoid quick acceleration and hard braking. Cruise control will keep you at a constant speed, even when going up and down hills.

5. Avoid using cruise control when driving on hilly highway roads. The cruise control will try and keep you at a constant speed which means it will not be able to anticipate a coming hill and accelerate to meet it. It will make the car idle downhill and then flaw it for the uphill sections. It is far more efficient to turn it off when driving on these type of roads and maintain the flexibility of normal driving.

6. Avoid stops. If approaching a red light, see if you can slow down enough to avoid having to actually stop (because you reach the light after it is green). Speeding up from 5 or 10 miles per hour will be easier on the gas than starting from full stop.

7. Anticipate the stop signs and lights. Look far ahead; get to know your usual routes. You can let up on the gas earlier. Coasting to a stop will save the gasoline you would otherwise use maintaining your speed longer. If it just gets you to the end of a line of cars at a red light or a stop sign a few seconds later, it won’t add any time to your trip. Ditto for coasting to lose speed before a highway off-ramp: if it means you catch up with that truck halfway around the curve instead of at the beginning, you haven’t lost any time. In many cities, if you know the streets well, you can time the lights and maintain the appropriate speed to hit all green lights. Usually this is about 35 to 40 MPH.

8. Maintain a safe following distance. Don’t stick to the bumper of the car directly in front of you. You will brake more and accelerate more to keep that unnecessary and dangerous narrow gap. This also gives you a lot more room to play with when you are timing traffic signals. Likewise, ignore tailgaters. They will tailgate you whether you go the speed limit, or 100MPH over the speed limit. Allow them pass when it’s convenient.

9. Slow down. Air resistance goes up as the square of velocity. The power consumed to overcome that air resistance goes up as the cube of the velocity. Rolling resistance is the dominant force below about 40 mph. Above that, every mph costs you mileage. Go as slow as traffic and your schedule will allow. Drive under 60-65 since air grows exponentially denser, in the aerodynamic sense, the faster we drive. To be precise, the most efficient speed is your car’s minimum speed in it’s highest gear, since this provides the best “speed per RPM” ratio. This is usually about 45 to 55 miles per hour.

10. Take off slowly from a full stop. This is one adjustment that will have dramatic effects on your gas mileage; don’t tear off from a stoplight or stop sign!

11. Stay well away from store fronts where you will spend significantly more time idling and waiting for pedestrians and other vehicles.  

12. Use A/C only on the highway. At lower speeds, open the windows. This increased the drag and reduces fuel efficiency, but not as much as the AC at low speeds (35-40 mph). Even better, at any speed, turn on the vent when it is cool outside or open windows just a few inches. The air con – when used a lot – is known to use up about 8% of the fuel you put into your car.

13. Shift into neutral if you are not comfortable with downshifting. Standard transmission vehicles may save gas by shifting into neutral when going down hills steep enough to maintain speed (although engine braking is safer on steeper declines). Do not do this in a Hybrid car, they use this “regenerative engine braking” to generate electricity and charge the batteries. NOTE: This strategy will result in more wear and tear on your brakes. Neither of these strategies is recommended for normal automatic cars.

14. Park in the shade. Gasoline actually evaporates right out of your tank, and it does so faster when you park directly in the sun – winter or summer. Parking in the shade also keeps it cooler inside, and you will need less A/C to cool off when you get back in. If there is no shade available, park so that your gas tank (the actual tank under the car, not the valve to fill it) is facing away from the direct sun. Also, today’s fuel systems are supposed to be airtight. Your gas cap should have a seal in it. Make sure that the seal is keeping the fumes in and outside air out.

[end of article]

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