Keeping Your Finances Afloat This Summer: Tips To Avoid The Debt Deep End

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Summertime is finally making its presence known across the country. The weather is warmer, patios are open and schools will be out in just a few short weeks. Although it is easy to get swept up in the lure of a Canadian summer, it’s important to remember that just because the temperatures outside are rising it doesn’t mean your amount of credit card debt has to as well.

During a 2016 CIBC poll, Canadians stated they planned to spend $1,346 on summer activities like travel, dining, recreation and home improvement. A 2016 Bank of Montreal survey found that 28% of Canadians use debt to pay for their summer spending habits, 27% admit to dipping into their savings to cover the costs and 13% say they put saving and repaying debt on the back burner during the season.

To help keep your summer spending on track, we’ve come up with the following tips to help you save this season:

  1. Make a summertime budget. You’ve heard us say it before, and we’re saying it again: budget, budget, budget! With vacations, child care costs, recreational activities and an abundance of enticing patios to eat at, it’s pretty safe to assume that most people expect to spend more money during the summer months. The best way to deal with these new expenses: update your monthly or quarterly budget to reflect the extra costs during the upcoming months. Plan ahead and save a little more each paycheck in June (or earlier if you remember), so you don’t have to dip into savings for summer activities. Budgeting is an important skill to practice all year long, but when you know you’re spending will increase it’s important to plan so you aren’t relying on credit that you may not be able to pay back, or savings that you may need in the future.
  2. Use prepaid credit cards. If you aren’t the best planner and are having trouble sticking to your budget, try using prepaid credit cards instead. Similar to a regular credit card, prepaid credit cards can be used almost anywhere – even online – but the balance that is on the card is all you can use, there is no overdraft or risk of overspending what you can’t afford. These are great to use on vacations, when going out to eat or when hitting up the mall as it eliminates the temptation of overspending.
  3. Try “DIY-ing” your home improvement projects. Whether it’s cleaning up the backyard or repainting your kitchen, try doing what you can without hiring a contractor or landscaper. Many small home improvement projects like painting, gardening and small plumbing and electrical fixes, can easily be done with some elbow grease and don’t require hiring a third party. If you are unsure if it’s something you can do on your own, do your research, ask a friend, or get a third opinion from someone you trust before adding the extra cost of labour to your budget. However, as nice as it is to believe we can cut corners and do somethings ourselves, it’s important to remember not all DIY projects turn out like the picture. It’s always good to plan for a 10-15% contingency fund in your home improvement budget for those “oops” moments.
  4. Take advantage of rewards programs. If your credit card offers cash back, travel or entertainment rewards, the summer is a great time to take advantage of using them. Plan to save your rewards for that summer vacation or use cash back on extra expenses like food, amusement park tickets, or to gas up for a road trip. If you don’t have enough rewards saved up for this summer, plan to save up for next summer!
  5. Try a vacation rental instead of an expensive hotel. Vacation rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO are becoming a popular and sometimes a less expensive alternative to hotels. If you require more than two rooms for your family, friends or travel group, vacation rentals offer an abundance of options and the more people that can divide up the cost, the cheaper the accommodation can become. Vacation rentals often also offer a full kitchen, which means you can plan to cook at home certain nights of your vacation, saving on food costs so funds can be used towards other vacation activities.
  6. Look into free events in your neighbourhood or municipality. Many neighbourhoods and municipalities across the country hold free community days and events throughout the summer months. Whether it’s movies in the park, parades and festivals or concerts, there is normally something that everyone will enjoy on their event calendars. Check your local municipality’s website to view their upcoming events. Also, don’t forget that this year each national park, historic site and marine conservation will have a free admissions day on top of their normal free admissions on Canada Day. This means you can spend a day or two exploring some of our national treasures for free! Check out Parks Canada’s site to see when the free admissions day is at a national park near you.

There are many more ways you can have a fun summer season without dipping into your savings or credit. No matter if you are going out of town or having a stay-cation, taking advantage of summer deals and rewards programs, or getting your hands dirty with DIY projects there are simple and effective ways to help keep your finances afloat this season.Freida Richer LIT

Freida Richer is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee with our Edmonton, Alberta practice. You can watch her Money Smarts segment on the third Monday of every month on Global Morning News Edmonton.

Tackle Your Debt in 2018 Using SMART Goals



Now that we’re a few weeks into 2018 and you’re thinking about your goals or resolutions for the year, it’s the perfect time to reflect on where you sit financially and tackle your debt. Perhaps, you have already set out to be more physically fit by signing up for those hot yoga classes, or are tapping into your mental wellness by dedicating five minutes to meditation. While these are all great goals, why not round out 2018 by focusing on improving your financial wellbeing?

With any goal, financial or otherwise, it takes thoughtful planning and organizing to be carried through.  Avoid delays in your achievements by setting SMART goals to keep you focused, organized and on track for success. SMART goals are one of many goal planning tools that can be used to organize and track your financial progress throughout 2018.

SMART goals consist of 5 key components. They must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. When developing your SMART goals, keep these helpful tips in mind:

1. Be specific about what you want to accomplish. Think about “what” is important to you and why?

2. Make sure the goal is measurable to help track your progress. Assign numbers or percentages to your financial goal, like “paying down $10,000 of debt” or “saving 10% of each paycheque”

3. & 4. Have an achievable and realistic goal. Think about the factors that are outside of your control and how those factors could impact your success.  If the goal isn’t realistic, think about what is achievable and plan from there.

5. Set specific milestones throughout the year to measure your progress.  For example, if your goal is to build an emergency fund, think about how much you want to have saved in 3 months’ time. At the end of each quarter, check-in on to see if you’re meeting your goal..  If you’re on track, great – keep doing what you’re doing. If not, make adjustments to ensure you reach your target at the next check-in point.

To make planning SMART goals easier, check out online goal tracking tools like


Staying motivated to achieve these goals can be difficult, especially when it comes to reducing debt and saving money. It’s easy for anyone to have set backs when it comes to financial planning, as it involves changing habits that can be difficult to break like spending less, learning to budget and putting a stop to using your credit cards.

To help you achieve your 2018 financial goals, our Licensed Insolvency Trustees shared their top tips kii.,/,to staying financially motivated:

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Tips for Valentine’s Day on a budget


If you’re having trouble making ends meet, you don’t have to succumb to holiday pressure and spend money you don’t have just to show someone you love them. Some of our Licensed Insolvency Trustees across the country exposed their romantic side by sharing these great low-to-no-cost tips for having a memorable Valentines Day in 2017.


Freida Richer tells us how to have a romantic day in Alberta without breaking the bank!

  • Outdoor skating: Bundle up and head outdoors for skating at Olympic Plaza or snowshoeing at Bragg Creek or the Kanasksis Silver Skate Festival and enjoy Edmonton’s picturesque Hawrelak Park in the River Valley. You can get hot chocolate there or bring some of your own for afterwards and have a romantic winter picnic.
  • Plan and prepare a romantic dinner at home together: Staying in is a great way to save money, and enjoying a meal at home can be more romantic than eating dinner in a noisy, crowded restaurant. Set the stage with candles, and dig out your good dishes and wine glasses!
  • Explore the city: Exploring your own neighbourhood with your loved one is a romantic way to spend an evening without breaking the bank. There are plenty of activities around town that are perfect for a date night on a budget including a Telus Spark adult night a few days before Valentine’s Day, the Penguin March at the Calgary Zoo, cheap seats at the Calgary philharmonic (which start at $25), or try cooking classes at SAIT or  “Get Cooking, MacEwan University”.


We discovered Rob McLernon is a romantic at heart when he shared these tips with us.

  • Outdoor skating at the Emera Oval: Plan a romantic outing to the Emera Oval with your significant other and enjoy an evening of skating under the stars. Bring some hot chocolate and snacks for afterwards and have a romantic winter picnic
  • Explore the Halifax / Dartmouth waterfront: Walk the boardwalk, take the ferry across the harbor, and stop into a coffee shop for a snack. Exploring your own neighbourhood with your loved one is an exciting way to spend a romantic evening without breaking the bank
  • Plan and prepare a romantic dinner at home together: Staying in is a great way to save money, and enjoying a meal at home can be more romantic than eating dinner in a noisy, crowded restaurant. Set the stage with candles, and dig out your good dishes and wine glasses!
  • Go snowshoeing: Consider renting some snowshoes or cross country skis (or better yet, borrow equipment from a friend) and head out for a jaunt in Shubie Park or Point Pleasant Park.


Thanks to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Licensed Insolvency Trustee Blaire MacNeil for these tips for planning Valentine’s Day activities around the island.

  • Venture outdoors: Consider renting some snowshoes or cross country skis (or borrow equipment from friends) and head out for a snowshoe hike around the Clyburn Loop at the Clyburn Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
  • Go to the movies – it’s cheap night: Movie tickets are cheaper on Tuesdays, and Valentine’s Day just happens to fall on a Tuesday this year! Take advantage of cheap night and grab a couple cheap movie tickets for you and your significant other.
  • Cook a romantic dinner together: Staying in is a great way to save money, and enjoying a meal at home can be more romantic than eating dinner in a noisy, crowded restaurant. Set the stage with candles, and dig out the good dishes and wine glasses.
  • Attend a community hall dance: If staying in is not your thing, the Practical Nursing Students are hosting a Valentine’s dance with a silent auction on Saturday, Feb 11 from 9pm to 1 am at Grand Lake Road Fire Dept. All proceeds go towards Loaves and Fishes, and tickets are $15 per couple! Call 902-317-1389 for tickets.


Kristi Stuart and the New Brunswick team shared these tips.

  • Outdoor Skating: Plan a romantic evening of outdoor skating at the Arts & Culture Park in Quispamsis, or skate to music under the stars at Lily Lake Pavilion in Saint John. Bring some hot chocolate and snacks for afterwards and have a romantic winter picnic
  • Plan a romantic stroll through Rockwood Park: Bundle up, grab your loved one, and embark on a romantic stroll through Rockwood Park. Bring some hot chocolate and snacks and have a romantic winter picnic after your walk
  • Cook a romantic dinner together: Staying in is a great way to save money, and enjoying a meal at home can be more romantic than eating dinner in a noisy, crowded restaurant. Set the stage with candles, and dig out the good dishes and wine glasses!

If your debt load is causing you stress beyond trying to plan the perfect Valentines Day gift, contact one of our debt help professionals near you for a free, no obligation debt consultation.

5 steps for getting your financial house in order this year


Now that we are well into January, you’ve probably had many possible new year’s resolutions running through your head…lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more, spend more time with family…the list goes on. Where do you start?! My belief is that “getting my financial house in order” should be on, if not at the top of, most Canadian’s new year’s resolutions lists for 2017, and here is why.

As Canadians find themselves dealing with ever-increasing debt levels, a greater and greater portion of their monthly paycheck goes towards servicing this debt.  With grocery and gas bills on the rise, it’s predicted that the average Canadian family could spend $1,600 more in 2017 than 2016. So, now is the perfect time to review your financial health and set a plan for the coming days, weeks and months.

Step 1: Determine your personal net worth.

Review your current financial situation by creating a personal net worth statement. This should be done annually so you can see if you are gaining ground or not. List all your assets (e.g., home, car, investments) and give a realistic value for each. Then list all your debts (e.g.,mortgage, car loan, credit cards, lines of credit, etc.). File this away for next year so you can review your progress year over year

Step 2: Plan to pay down debt.

Review your list of debts from your personal net worth statement and create a debt reduction strategy.

Higher interest unsecured debt should be attacked first.
By reducing this debt first, you will free up more of your monthly income to be used to reduce other debt, or create savings. Paying down high interest, unsecured debt is a two-pronged approach:

  1. Stop (or limit) the future use of the unsecured debt.
  2. Pay more than the minimum the lender requires.

This seems simple in theory but can be difficult in practice because “life happens”. The budget you create should have some provision for unexpected expenses which can help with reducing the tendency to use the debt for such unexpected expenses.

Use cash on a go forward basis
Plastic (credit and debit cards) is very convenient and can lead to unanticipated or overspending. Leave the cards at home (in a safe place) to limit your access. Get receipts for everything you spend. Remember you are now using cash and without the receipts you have less ability to track where the cash went.

Step 3: Create a budget.

A budget is not a four letter word and it is not something to fear. A budget is merely a plan for how you want to spend your money. There is the old adage: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Nothing could be more true!  A budget is key to improving your financial health. If you already have a budget, pat yourself on the back. If you don’t, the beginning of the year is a good time.

The best way to create a budget is to review your spending patterns over the previous months because where your money has been going is probably a good indication of where it will go in the future.

  • As a starting point, look at your bank statements, credit card statements, etc.
  • It doesn’t matter what form your budget takes (pen and paper, Microsoft Excel, software, online), as long as it done in a method that you are comfortable using regularly.
  • It doesn’t matter what form your budget takes (pen and paper, Microsoft Excel, software, online), as long as it done in a method that you are comfortable using regularly.
  • Some resources to check out include the online budget calculator offered by the Federal Consumer Agency of Canada, and the budget tool and free mobile apps at Software for purchase such as Quicken can be useful, however, they come with a cost to purchase.
  • Look to online tutorials to help you create the best budget for your situation.
  • For your budget to be most effective and to be most successful achieving it, be sure to involve your spouse and your children (they will need to learn this as they get older) in the process .

Step 4: Create savings.

Pay yourself first.
Your budget should also have a monthly savings amount built into it. An effective way to do this is through payroll deduction. This way you aren’t tempted to dip into any savings you planned for at the end of the month.

Piggy bank_lavendarAutomatic Money Transfer
Another method of “forced” savings is to have your money automatically transferred from your checking account to your savings account according to your pay schedule. Start small and after a few months if you can handle slowly increase the amount. Out of sight is out of mind – over time you won’t even miss it!

Use a piggy bank
Collect your loose change. Loonies and Toonies can add up quite quickly!.

Step 5: Track spending.

An often overlooked step, you need to track your actual spending and compare it to your budgeted amounts. Review your budget at least monthly to see if your spending compares to your budget. If you find you are spending more in a category then the budgeted amount, you either need to increase the budgeted amount or decrease the amount you are spending.

Getting your financial house in order an important resolution. Create a plan and work towards achieving your plan. Don’t try to change everything overnight as you are more likely to give up and return to your old ways. If you find you are in over your head reach out to a professional such as a Licensed Insolvency Trustee for help.

Rob McLernon is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT) and a Chartered Insolvency and Restructuring Professional (CIRP)  with our Nova Scotia Grant Thornton team. He’s been working primarily in the consumer insolvency area since 2003. In addition to being a LIT, he is a Certified Insolvency Administrator and Counsellor. Rob has extensive background knowledge on debt restructuring and brings this to his current role.



8 ideas for a fun & frugal festive season


The holiday season can be a time of friendship, laughter, and holiday cheer… and a time when you feel the expectation to spend a lot of money that you may not have. This is why it can be an especially difficult time for many people: the pressure to keep up with those around us, the fear of disappointing those we typically buy presents for, the stress of not being sure how you will afford food for the table let alone presents for under the tree.

Our debt solutions counselors at Grant Thornton Limited have shared some of their tips for trying to refocus this holiday season so you can make it more about enjoying the time with the people around you. Hopefully using some of these tips will help you feel refreshed in the New Year, as opposed to wondering how you will recover from the spends made in December.

  1. Talk to family / friends about the cost of gifts. Sit down and make decisions about a dollar limit for gifts. If money is tight then consider doing a secret Santa with the family. Remind everyone that thoughtfully chosen gifts are more important than expensive ones.
  2. Take advantage of the sales. Shop the sales throughout the year by making a “Christmas closet” that you can add items for people that you find throughout the year , or after Christmas and by discounted Christmas decorations. This is also useful if you have a drop in guest who brought you a gift and if you wanted to give them something in return.
  3. Have the kids make a list.  Ask them to pick 3 items that they want: 1. One that is a real want, 2. One that is a need, and 3. One that is a small / inexpensive.item.  Let them know that they will likely only get one item off of the list – this helps teach children that Christmas is about more than presents, they put real thought into what they want, and your pocket book gets to save by not buying them gifts they don’t really want or need.
  4. Cut out unnecessary items.  This could include ribbons, bows, and fancy tape. Use brown paper bags as a fun alternative with colorful marker to write the “To” and “From”.
  5. Sell old toys / clothing.  Find a local consignment store and get extra cash for new gifts.
  6. Do Christmas baking instead of gifts.  This helps cut costs, and has the added benefit of spending time with family to make the bake goods.
  7. Take advantage of the free events to get into the spirit. Santa Claus parade, craft fairs, outdoor concerts and tree lighting ceremonies are usually offered at no-charge.
  8. Hold a “Catch up Christmas”.  This one is great if you overspent last Christmas and your budget is super stretched. Consider not spending for one Christmas. Instead, focus on a nice family meal, taking in the Christmas parade, driving around seeing the Christmas lights, and really devoting your holiday to your family by giving your time. It enables you to spend quality time with your family and no one will be stressed because the focus is on time and making memories, not spending.

Other fun free activities include: a hot chocolate and Christmas movie night, ice skating at the river, or sliding in a park, take a drive around / walk around the neighborhood for Christmas lights. Center this Christmas on family activities instead of gifts and goodies.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to spend money at this time of year. Let’s try to take some steps to break that cycle, enabling us to end the year and start a new year with a fresh, positive, less stressful approach. Enjoy the loved ones in your life and the memories you can make rather than worrying about the debt we can incur.

If you have money-saving gift-ideas, we’d love to hear them.  If you are finding this holiday season particularly stressful because you feel your debt load is overwhelming, please reach out to us and let us present you with some options for your situation during a confidential, no obligation consultation.  Sometimes just knowing you have options can help relieve the stress you are feeling.

Kristi Stuart is a  Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT) on the New Brunswick Grant Thornton team. In becoming a trustee, she won the 2015 Jack Biddell Gold Medal for finishing the Canadian Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Professional’s 2015 National Insolvency Exams with the highest standing in the country.