Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Broke Student's Guide to TFSAs

The most frequent budgeting advice that any student receives from their parents, teachers, and counselors is to save, save, save!

Most people begin their savings journey with a simple savings account with their bank. If you have a savings account set up already, it might be time to take the next step and open up a TFSA.

What is a TFSA?

A TFSA or a Tax-Free Savings Account... "is a way for individuals who are 18 and older and who have a valid social insurance number to set money aside tax-free throughout their lifetime. Contributions to a TFSA are not deductible for income tax purposes. Any amount contributed as well as any income earned in the account (for example, investment income and capital gains) is generally tax-free, even when it is withdrawn."

Okay, that might be a lot of financial jargon to a lot of you, so let's break it down. Think of a TFSA as a sort-of savings account, when you put money into the TFSA, it slowly... very slowly... grows as you are paid interest on the amount you have within the account. You might be thinking that opening a TFSA might not be worth it if it's so slow, but wait! Remember that the money grows exponentially thanks to the awesome power of compound interest. Also, if you're going to put money into a savings account, why not move it all to a TFSA, instead of having it sit around gathering digital dust bunnies.

TFSA Basics

  • Must be 18 or older with a valid SIN card to open a TFSA.
  • You are NOT required to be employed to open a TFSA.
  • There is a contribution limit, meaning that you can only deposit a maximum amount into your TFSA every year. The contribution limit as of 2017 is $5,500.
  • Unused contribution room from previous years is rolled over to the next year. For example, if you deposit $3,000 in 2017, you would be able to deposit a maximum contribution of $8,000 in 2018.
  • Do NOT contribute more than your contribution limit for the year, if you do, the tax gods will punish you. AKA you will be heavily fined with interest by the CRA depending on the over-contribution amount every month until you remove or fix the over-contribution.
  • All money held in or withdrawn from a TFSA account is tax-free... forever.
  • You do NOT need to open a TFSA account with the bank you are currently with.

What TFSA to get?

The TFSA will have different features depending on the bank you open it with. Some banks will offer TFSAs that require a minimum to open, some will not allow you to withdraw money from a TFSA until a period of time has passed in return for a higher interest. Other TFSAs will allow withdrawals at any time, but for a lower interest. While having lots of options is great, it can also be overwhelming to find a TFSA that's best for you.

Tips for students to look for in a TFSA:
  • Find a TFSA that doesn't charge fees for transferring money out or into the TFSA.
  • Highest possible interest. The higher the interest the more money for your wallet.
  • Can you do online or mobile banking?
  • No monthly fees.
  • No minimum initial deposit.
  • As a student, I recommend getting a TFSA that doesn't require you to wait before being able to withdraw money back out. You don't want to put money in and then not be able to withdraw it when your suddenly faced with a huge school related bill.
  • Make sure there's no fine print stating that the interest will suddenly drop after six months. A lot of TFSAs give a short period of very high interest to lure in customers.

Compare TFSAs

An easy way to find a good TFSA is to use a site like RateSupermarket to compare the best available TFSAs you can open in your location.

The site has ordered the TFSAs from highest to lowest interest, making the search much easier for you. Clicking "More Details" will open up a brief overview of some of the features for that specific TFSA.

While the overview is handy for quickly comparing TFSAs, make sure to visit the website for all the details. This overview doesn't mention that there are fees for Interac eTransfers, you definitely don't want to jump into a TFSA without checking all the details!

Stop Delaying!

There's very little required of you to open up a TFSA. While researching different TFSAs might be a bit of a hassle, there's nothing better than opening up your account years down the road and seeing all the money you've been able to save up. Stop delaying and start saving, your future self will thank you.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Living Within Your Means: How to Stop Overspending

Temptation is a hard one to dodge when you have to walk by the five hundred restaurants in university center every day before and after classes. Especially for me when it comes in the form of sweet, sweet chocolate.

It's easy to indulge when you've got a $20 in your pocket (courtesy of OSAP), easily losing sight of how much you've budgeted for the whole academic year. Which then leads to skimping on meals for the rest of the year, because you spent waaay too much on Starbucks.

Don't let the money vanish from your wallet by stuffing your mouth with cinnamon buns (like I am right now), learn from my mistakes folks.

This, Not That

You don't have to completely cut off your favorite meals or sweets, that's a good way to end up caving in one day and splurging all the money you ended up saving. Instead of cutting try replacing the food you love to eat outside by switching to a cheaper alternative.

I'm sure everyone's told you by now to make coffee at home instead of buying a cup every day. And for good reason too:

$2.15 (incl. taxes) for a small black coffee.
$15.03 / 7 days.
$64.41 / 30 days.
$783.66 / year.
Based on a $6.77 (incl. taxes) 925g can of Maxwell House.
Can make around 77 cups of coffee.
Each cup of coffee costs about 0.09 cents to brew
(not including milk, sugar, water).
If you have one cup of coffee a day, total spendings amount to:
61 cents / 7 days.
$2.63 / 30 days.
$32 / year.
(Just for a black coffee)

Here's how to apply this method to other items:
  • Instead of ordering pizza, buy a frozen pizza for $4 from Independent. It tastes just as good, seriously.
  • Love muffins? Make your own. Flour, salt, baking soda, eggs, butter/oil, sugar, frozen fruit (cheaper than fresh), and muffin tins from the dollar store. Other than the fruit, you probably have these laying around in your kitchen cabinets. Baking does not get easier than muffins, so find a recipe and get measuring.
  • Prefer the sweetness of a frosted cake over muffins? Opt for the cakes with the 50% off stickers in the grocery store, they are still perfectly edible even if they aren't fresh. If you want to go the extra mile use a cake mix kit to bake your own or make one from scratch.
This method doesn't have to apply to just food. Something as simple as buying clothes from Value Village instead of a retail store could save you loads of money. Want to buy electronics? Head on down to a Factory Direct (or order from their website). Looking for books? Forget Chapters. Order from Book Outlet which sells books for as low as $1.50. I've bought from them countless times and have never received a book that's ripped up or dog-eared. Most of their books are of excellent quality, and all their books have descriptions of how much wear and tear they have. Just make sure to do a large purchase at once to qualify for free shipping.

Three Ingredient Meals

Although cooking is a much better alternative to buying out. There are a lot of recipes where a lot of ingredients are required or the ingredients end up being very expensive. Many recipes can be easily altered without affecting the quality of the taste.

Instead of regular pancakes, how about 3 ingredient banana pancakes by the Youtuber/blogger Mind Over Munch. A lot more flavour, for a lot less money.

Her blog and her youtube channel have a ton of great three and two ingredient recipes that are incredibly satisfying.

Other youtubers and bloggers who have never let me down with their cheap yet delicious recipes:

The Domestic Geek - Similar to Mind Over Munch, she has many meals that require only 3 ingredients or less.

Leanne Brown - Lots of great recipes on her site, she also has a free eBook called Good and Cheap which has recipes that can feed a person on less than $4 a day.

Brothers Green Eats - This youtuber makes delicious meals on a shoestring budget for students.


No, I do not mean reducing waste (but you should do that too). I mean gradually reducing your spending in increments. The one mistake that people do when reducing their spendings is to chop off a big portion of their budget. But when it comes down to actually reducing spendings, students end up confused on what they can cut back on. When cutting spendings be specific and aim small.

First, try to reduce spendings on a day-to-day basis instead of planning ahead. Gasp! that's right, this is the one time when trying to plan ahead might backfire. Especially if you have low impulse control.

Imagine waking up from your cozy bed and getting dressed for school, you drive or bus through the early morning rush and finally reach university center. Walking in the cold winter morning from the parking lot to UC, you decide to stop in line for a coffee to warm up your frozen soul. Finally, you've reached the cash and order your long-awaited coffee. The cashier asks, "Is that all?" This is the moment of hesitation, a chance to order a nice hot breakfast sandwich and a donut along with that $2 coffee. It's also the perfect time to reply with, "Yes, that's everything."

This is what I mean by reducing, a $2 order could easily turn into a $10 order. Now imagine spending $10 for 5 days a week, turning into a massive $50 in total for nothing but a sandwich, coffee and a donut every day. The point of reducing is to cut back one item at a time when you make purchases. If you got the full combo today, only get the drink and the donut tomorrow, and then only get the drink on the third day. I know, the Tims withdrawal is real.

Practice this habit everywhere you go, ask yourself, "Do I really need this right now? Would I really want this if I didn't happen to see it?"

Living Within Your Means

Practice these strategies and little by little you will see more money left in your pocket at the end of every month. Don't let the temptation wring your pockets empty. While I focused mostly on food in this blog post, it's only because food tends to be the biggest expense. You can easily apply these strategies to clothes, electronics, furniture and anything else. All it takes is a little googling with the keyword "cheap".

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Budgeting App Review: EveryDollar

With the new school year beginning in a matter of weeks, many students will be returning to their dorm rooms to prepare for classes. The shift to living alone without the support of parents can be stressful, especially with all the new school and rent related expenses piled on.

Planning a budget before the start of school is important so you don't end up overspending and then surviving on nothing but cup noodles for the rest of the year (trust me, I've been there)!


EveryDollar is a budgeting app developed by Ramsey Solutions (money guru Dave Ramsey's company). The app is available on android, iphone, as well as windows and mac via a browser.

EveryDollar cuts right to the chase so you know exactly how much you intend to spend before the beginning of the month. Here is a description of EveryDollar's approach to budgeting, courtesy of their Help Center:

You start by giving a name to every dollar you earn each month until there are no more dollars to name! Your income now equals your outgo. As you update your EveryDollar budget with day-to-day expenses, you’ll be able to see if your spending choices line up with your budget, and you can make adjustments as needed.

This makes EveryDollar quite simple and easy to pickup. There are only three sections to focus on for each month you budget; planned, spent, and remaining. Let's see how it works!

Making a Plan for your Money

In the 'Planned' tab, you add in your income/budget at the beginning of the month and then divide your budget up into different expenses using the categories. The app allows you to create new categories if you want to be more detailed. Make sure every dollar within your budget is allocated into a category or else the app won't let you move to the next step. Keep dividing up your funds until the app says "$0 left to budget".

In the sample budget, there's an additional $20 that hasn't been placed into a category. Having extra money is always a good thing! Make sure to throw it into a savings account if you don't need it for any other expense.

Congratulations! You've completed your budget, that's really all there is to it.

Tracking your Expenses

Once you’ve got a budget, you need to track your expenses to make sure you don’t stray from that plan. During the month, add all your expenses under the 'Spent' tab by clicking the plus sign at the bottom.

Monitor the remaining tab to stay on track

Every time you add in a new expense, EveryDollar will perform some math magic and calculate how much remains in every category and in your total budget which you can check under the 'Remaining' tab.

This feature is useful for adjusting your budget on the fly. Let’s say you have a little too much fun at Ollie's Pub and end up overspending in the entertainment category. Using the remaining tab, you can look for ways to save that money from another category.

At the end of each month you should review the remaining tab to see where you succeeded and where you could use some improvement, for example, NOT spending grocery money on three extra-large pizzas next time? Then, make adjustments to your plan til your budget works for you.


If you've stuck with the app for at least a month and followed through with your budget, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back. The hardest part is over, now keep budgeting every day. You'll find that life is a lot easier when you don't have to worry about how much money you have left in your wallet.

I wouldn't recommend this app for students who want to see a full review of their spending habits or their income. It doesn't come with any graphs or pie charts like Money Lover and Mint. EveryDollar is a straight-forward budgeting app and is good for people who want a simple start to budgeting every day.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

How to Save Money on Groceries

Right after rent, groceries take up the largest portion of my budget. For a lot of students living on their own, grocery shopping is almost a battle, it can be especially tough for the students who have to decide between bread or milk because they can't afford both.

That's why I've written this step-by-step guide on how to save money on groceries from my own experience as a student living on their own.

Step 1: Plan Ahead

Planning your grocery shopping ahead of time is by far the most crucial aspect of saving money on groceries. Limit yourself from going to the grocery store too often Most people, myself included, tend to buy extra snacks or junk food every time, so try and set one day of the week just for grocery shopping. You'll notice that unnecessary spending on foods you don't really need will decrease.

You will want to make a grocery budget. Actually making a limit to your spending is how you can ensure you don't buy beyond your means. I limit myself to $30 a week for groceries.

If you've been keeping up with my blogs you know by now that I love to use apps in my daily life of managing my personal finances. So, each of the following steps uses a free app that will have you saving money in the kitchen in no time.

Step 2: Use Yummly to find recipes and list the required ingredients.

Yummly is a recipe/cooking app, now there are a ton of recipe apps out there on the app stores, but this one is by far my favourite. Out of all the recipe apps I've tested, this one has the largest range of choices, and you can set up the recipes displayed on the dash very specifically to your dietary needs. Yummly also has an ingredients checklist, once you find a recipe you like, you can add it to the built in shopping list.

Now, I know what you're thinking, what if you don't know how to cook? Well, that's alright, Yummly has some very easy recipes on there, like that three bean chili you see in the picture above. The app also has a filter option that can reduce the difficulty of the recipes, so you can find meals that really only take two or three ingredients.

Besides, learning to cook a little at a time is a very good life skill, and cooking food from scratch is much cheaper, and healthier than buying fast food everyday. I personally spend about $20-$28 a week on groceries and food in total, which are usually all ingredients. But, if you eat out everyday even at a minimum of $5, that adds up to $35. And $5 isn't even enough to really get a full meal.

Step 3: Use Flipp to search for the cheapest prices for the ingredients you need.

Milk prices at various stores.
Flipp is an app meant to find the cheapest price for an ingredient or product that you're searching for. You type in a key word like "milk" and it will search the online flyers of all the stores near your location so you can compare prices.

I find that the best use for Flipp is when you just need to buy one or two items. Say you only needed to go shopping for a carton of milk, then clearly Metro has the cheapest price. However, if you have a large grocery list then Flipp isn't really necessary. On average, stores like Freshco, NoFrills, and Foodbasics are usually cheaper than stores like Independent or Walmart.

Flipp's coupon feature.
I've opened up the full e-flyer for Freshco, see those little money icons hovering over one of the products? Clicking on them will open up a coupon for that product, which you can print out and then show to the cashier. Usually these coupons range from $1-$3, so you can decide for yourself if you want to take that extra step to save some money.

Android / iOS

Step 4: Keep track of your spending with Listonic

My grocery list for March 31st.
Out of all these apps, Listonic is my favourite for saving money. I like to take all the ingredients I need for a recipe from Yummly, and then type them into Listonic instead of using Yummly's built-in shopping list. Simply because Listonic allows you to type in the price of each item as you shop around. Every time I pick up an ingredient in the store, I pause for a few seconds to input the rounded up price of that item, and then I check it off of my list. Listonic adds up the prices of all the checked off items, so no math needed on your part.

Listonic is a great app to use if you have a tendency to underestimate how much you are really spending. Usually, by the time most people reach the checkout, they find that their groceries are a little too expensive for them. And then feel like it's too late to turn back and get a different product for a cheaper price. Thanks to Listonic, I can know which items I should remove from my shopping cart if I end up going over my weekly budget before I even hit the checkout counter.

Bonus Tips

  • Always, always go for no name brand products. There will rarely be a large enough discount on branded products for them to be cheaper than no name. Also, there is almost always a no name version of a product, they're just located out of eye level. Grocery stores are sneaky like that, because they want you to spend more money.
  • Costco is great for buying meats in bulk, if you can't eat it all at once, freeze it.
  • Don't go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, eat a filling meal and you'll be less influenced to buy junk food that you don't really need. Here's an article that talks about this.
  • Some grocery stores like Freshco, Foodbasics, and Independent have metal trolleys in the produce, meat, and baked goods sections. These trolleys are stuffed with items that are about to hit their best by date, and are usually half off. They might not be the freshest, but they are still perfectly edible as long as you inspect carefully before buying.
  • Ever thought of buying breads, coffee, and other staples from the Dollar store? You can buy these products from some dollar stores for $2 or less, and yes they are perfectly safe to eat.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Honey is a Powerful Browser Extension That Makes It Easy to Save Money Online

I personally love online shopping. From clothes, electronics, and sometimes even imported food products, I can find most of the products I want online much cheaper than I could ever get them from a store.

I like to use sites like Groupon, RetailMeNot, and sometimes even Red Flag Deals to search for coupons before I make any purchases. But searching the vast internet for that perfect little coupon can become a time consuming hassle. That's why Honey is probably the best thing to happen for all hardcore coupon-ers, or just about anyone that wants to get great discounts.


I'll keep it short and sweet, Honey is a web browser plugin that automatically tests discount codes right before you check out. It currently works on desktop versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Honey works by searching for all possible discounts and coupon codes from the internet for a particular online store, and then trying each code one by one. When one of them works, it will notify you and you should see the discount added to your transaction. So, no effort is needed on your part other than just downloading the app onto Chrome. However, it won't always be able to find a discount or one that's working, so you've been warned!

I ordered pizza to demo Honey just for you readers.

After I clicked checkout, Honey worked its sweet magic and voila, it found a $4.94 discount. Do you know how many items I could buy from the Dollar store with $4.94? Probably a lot, thanks Honey.

On the front page of the Honey app (click the Honey icon in the top right of your browser), you'll see a list of online stores like Walmart, Target, etc. Click on any of the stores and you can activate a surprise cash bonus that can range anywhere from 0-10% before you start shopping on the store. Remember to read the little fine print to see how the cash bonus works on each store, because it can vary.

Honey also has a cashback rewards/referral system, every time you refer a friend you get HoneyGold which you can later redeem for Amazon gift cards

Go ahead and download Honey from the Chrome store ASAP.

Friday, 6 January 2017

How to Save Money When Buying Textbooks

The awful part about going back to school after the winter break is having to purchase expensive textbooks after spending all your money on the two dozen Christmas gifts you bought for yourself from Amazon.

Buying your textbooks from the right places to save money is important, so you can continue to follow along with your studies and not break your wallet.