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Saving money can be your superpower

Everyone can be a superhero when it comes to saving money, and you don’t have to cut out coffee or couch surf, I swear. Here are some easy tips and tricks to make saving money your superpower.

Staying in touch 

Most people sign up for a cell phone plan and then forget about it. This practice could literally cost you hundreds of dollars a year. I recommend reshopping your plan on a regular basis. Look through your last three months of cell phone bills to see how much call time, data and roaming you use versus how much you pay. If you’re going over your limits, you may save money overall by cutting out overage fees and paying more for your plan up front.  In fact, I recently switched from a $55/month to a $85/month plan because it means I’ll still save money on roaming charges. Don’t forget: Plans vary from province to province, so if you are moving look into a new local plan.

Having fun

I recently joined Sinemia which makes it possible to watch three movies a month for just $9.99. You can catch one regular movie and one iMax, VIP, or 3D movie and the pass works at all movie theaters in Canada and the US. They charge you for the whole year up front, but if you see at least one regular movie a month, you’ll save money. If you’re in a couple, I recommend getting individual passes (and not the couple pass) so you have more flexibility to go to the movies.

If you’d rather stay home, split a subscription service with your roommates. The Spotify Premium family plan is for anyone who lives at the same address, and it’s only $3 a month if you split it with five other people. (If you have a personal Spotify Premium account, you pay around $10/month.) Have a quick peek at your subscription plans to see if there are any others you can share with friends.

Getting around

Public transport may be the cheapest option, but sometimes it takes twice as long as driving.  I find that car sharing services like Car2Go are cheaper than grabbing a cab or Uber. Plus, they can be more convenient than driving your own car in some big cities, thanks to designated parking areas. If you’re travelling, try renting a car with Turo. It’s the Airbnb of cars. And the best part about the service? If you’re traveling in Canada, the booking fee includes $2,000,000 liability insurance in the rental fee.

Hitting the road

Whenever I’m traveling, I try to minimize my expenses by booking accommodation last minute. It’s not as convenient as planning ahead, but I routinely save 30-50% on hotels. For great savings, try booking your hotel on the same day that you need it. I use the HotelTonight app as a benchmark for prices, but I also check out Airbnb and scan either Expedia, Hotels.com or Hotwire before picking a spot. If you travel for work (and are less price sensitive), you can book 10 nights with Hotels.com and get the eleventh night free, which you can use later when you are travelling on your own dime.

Earning helps you save, too

Many companies have referral programs that help you save or earn real money. Uber, for example, has a program that lets you earn ride credit by referring friends to the service. With Moka you can give $5 and get $5 every time you refer a friend. We help you earn cold hard cash and then automatically invest the money so your savings grow.

You can also earn money while you travel (or sleep on a friend’s couch) if you Airbnb your room or apartment. Hosting requires some prep–I recommend purchasing some extra sheets and towels–but it’s an easy way to make a little extra. I only accept guests with verified accounts and excellent ratings, so my experience hosting has been great. I made my first booking within 12 hours of posting my place. You can give it a try by registering your home.  

What do you do to save money? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks.

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How to master your finances as a university student

Handling your finances as a student can be crazy stressful, and we wanted to help make it easier. Here are some words of advice to help you crush your finances this school year.

Weigh your income against your expenses

Everyone is always yelling at students to save money. After awhile, it stops registering. So try this instead: Calculate the difference between your income and your expenses. Are you spending as much or more than you earn? What do you think you should do about it? The answer is different for everyone, but if you really want to master your finances, you have to understand your personal financial situation and draw your own conclusions.

Quick Tip: There are lots of online calculators, like this one from Smart Asset, that you can use to help you compare your income and expenses.

Let’s get digital

Leverage the power that technology will give you over your finances. Budgeting and saving are the bread and butter of financial literacy, and now there are many tools you can use to help craft your first budget (like Mint) and automatically save the suggested 10-15% of your income (like Moka). If you can afford to save more, do it.

Quick Tip: Set up a recurring deposit with Moka. This will ensure you’re putting money aside every week.

Give yourself some credit

Many students have misconceptions about the use of credit: They think credit is just a card you use to make large financial purchases. It’s true you can use a credit card to buy things, but your personal credit rating is something different. It’s a standing score that lenders use to decide what rate they will give you when you borrow money. If you have a bad credit rating, you probably have a history of not paying your bills on time, and banks will likely charge you a higher interest rate when you want to borrow money. This can be really costly over time. Paying your bills on time (and not buying things that you don’t have the money for) in university will help you in future.

Quick Tip: Check your credit score for free with Mogo. Contrary to popular opinion, when you check your own credit rating, it won’t have a negative impact on your score.

Apply. For. Scholarships.

Fifteen million dollars of scholarship money goes unclaimed every year in Canada. To be clear: that’s not individuals who win a scholarship and then don’t claim the money. That’s money that no one even applies for. That money could be your money. Apply for as many scholarships and bursaries as you possibly can.

Quick Tip: Scholarships Canada is a hub where you can find $200 million in awards. The Government of Canada also shares merit-based scholarships for post-secondary students.

Find a mentor

Have some frank conversations about finances with your parents, if that’s an option for you. If it isn’t, find someone else that you trust who can give you some unbiased advice (i.e. not someone who is trying to sell you something.) A financial planner may be trying to push a product you don’t need, like a loan or credit line. And no, you don’t have to find a financial expert to mentor you. The point is to start talking about your finances so that you can start building your awareness and figuring out what you don’t know!

Quick Tip: Ask any question you want on this Reddit thread for Canadian personal finance or find a finance-related club at your university.

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The three-step guide to budgeting for people who hate budgets

So you hate budgeting. The  good news is there’s a way to hate it less. Don’t believe me? Here’s my three-step guide to budgeting for people who’d rather be doing literally anything else.  Give it a try.

Step 1. Figure out what you need

This first step means making a date with your bank statements. Pick a rainy day (and yes, you can watch TV at the same time).

To figure out how much you need, pull up your last two or three months of credit and debit card records and creep your spending.

How much money do you need to spend on a monthly basis? Housing, groceries, and utilities are non-negotiables. Decent internet, a phone plan, transportation expenses, insurance, and loan payments can also count as necessities.

Next, grab an old calendar and write down what you paid for necessities on specific days.

This simple activity gives you an idea of when money normally leaves your account, so that you know what expenses you have to cover at the end of your pay cycle. This exercise can also make you aware of spending patterns, like how often you stock up on groceries and about how much you spend each trip to the store.

The shortcut

Skip the calendar and just make a list of numbers that cover what you need for a month. Add up these numbers. Yes, of course, you can use a calculator.

Step 2. Figure out what is leftover

This step involves some simple subtraction. Take the amount you get paid in a month (hint: peek your paycheque), subtract the amount you need to spend on necessities, and bam.

(What you make) – (what you need) = what is leftover

You can spend the leftover money on anything you want, which is not really the kind of freedom you think of when you hear the word “budgeting,” right?

Pro tip

Consider paying yourself first (i.e. saving) a necessity.. Try setting up a recurring weekly deposit with Moka and put away at least 10% of what you earn. Oh, and if you’re freelancing or self-employed, don’t forget to save money for taxes, too.

Step 3. Spend the leftover, if you want

This last step is the fun part: You can spend as much of the leftover money as you want. Overpriced lattes, fancy exercise classes, concert tickets, you name it.

Don’t have a lot leftover? Maybe that’s the wake-up call you need to ask for a raise or eliminate unnecessary recurring expenses, like old subscriptions or surprising bank fees. Sure, it may take a few months before you can afford something you really want, but you’ll never be scrambling to pay your electricity bill if you stick to this budget. Plus, you’ll avoid racking up debt and the expensive interest that comes with it.

Just remember to stop spending when the leftover money is gone.  Try keeping a simple running tally of every fun (i.e. not necessary) purchase you make and when you’re close to the total, you’ll know it’s time to slow down.

The shortcut

For an automated solution, set up an extra bank account. Every time you get paid, transfer the leftover to your extra account and leave the money for your necessities in your original account.

This means you’ll have one card just for fun spending and one for the necessities. Make sure that any automated payments are coming out of the right account and you’ve got a hands-free solution that does your budgeting for you.

That’s it

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? A budget is just a plan for how you’re going to use your money to do as much of the stuff you want as possible.  If your goal is to feel like you still have flexibility and fun built into your plan, this simple approach is a great way to have your budget cake and eat it, too.

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How to slay your student debt years ahead of schedule

You don’t have to live with that pesky, lingering student loan forever. You can crush debt instead of letting it crush you.

As a financial coach, I’ve seen many of my clients pay off their debts faster than they thought possible. In fact, one of my clients paid off her student loan eight years ahead of schedule by using some of my easy tips and tricks. Interested? Here’s how you can graduate from debt for good.

Stash cash

The first step to paying off student debt actually starts with saving for a rainy day.  No matter how you slice it, there will come a time when you’ll need a little extra to help you out of an emergency financial situation. If you don’t have anything put aside, you may need an emergency loan. That’s why a rainy day fund is key: You’re trying to pay off debt, not rack up more of it!  To start tackling your student loan as soon as possible, save at least one month’s worth of basic living expenses, including the cost of housing, groceries, transportation, and utilities.

What to do: One of the easiest ways to save a month’s expenses quickly is to try a no-spend challenge by eliminating a specific category of spending from your lifestyle for awhile. My husband and I recently stopped eating out for month and we were able to put a sizeable sum in our basic emergency fund.

Embrace spreadsheets

The fastest way to eliminate that student loan is to give it all you’ve got! This requires some real-talk with yourself about your spending. How much you do you actually need to live? Think rent, utility bills, transportation costs, and basic groceries and household items. Now subtract these essentials from your monthly income. The difference? That is what you can really contribute to your monthly debt repayment.

What to do: Use a zero based monthly budgeting template to allocate a dollar amount to your most basic living costs, and then throw any extra from your monthly income towards your debt balance.

Prioritize payments

Not all loans are the same. In fact, federal, provincial and private loans have different interest rates and payment terms. High interest charges stack up fast and can significantly increase the size of your debt over a short period of time. That’s why it’s critical to create a repayment plan that minimizes the amount of interest you pay: You’ll save money overall and climb out of debt faster.

What to do: Prevent high interest charges from accumulating by prioritizing loan repayments for higher interest loans first. Generally, loans from private lenders or lines of credit have high interest (plus, the interest charges are not tax deductible) so they are good place to start. Next, compare interest rates on your provincial and federal loans.

Stay humble

You should definitely celebrate your financial success, but you don’t have to celebrate by blowing your whole paycheque!  People often fall into the trap of lifestyle inflation by spending more money when their income increases. Try to avoid this mistake by keeping your living costs low as your income goes up over time. If you get a job straight out of school, don’t drastically (and expensively) change your life. You’ll end up with more in the bank when it’s all said and done if you pay off debt first.

What to do: Avoid the temptation to overspend on purchases like a new TV or car. If you’ve got a roommate, keep them around a little longer and you’ll potentially save thousands.  Remember, student loan repayment is the goal.

 

Paying off that pesky student loan fast will require focus, but the sooner you get started, the better. Build a safety net, plan, prioritize, and keep your spending simple so that you can throw more at that student loan and be free of debt, forever.

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If time is money, can I have both?

Time is money. You’ve definitely heard this phrase before, but have you ever really thought about what it means?

For time management researchers like Brad Aeon, it’s an intriguing idea. Aeon sees time and money as two sides of the same coin. He looks at the phrase as a mathematical equation: If time is money, then money is time. After all, he explains, if you receive a paycheque for hours spent at work, you’re essentially spending actual hours of your life whenever you make a purchase.

So how can we manipulate the math to get the most out of life? Since time and money are so intricately, intimately connected, it makes sense that managing the hours of your life can help you get a handle on your finances.

Aeon has a minimal approach to time management—”All you really need is a schedule and a to-do list”—and his approach to personal finance is similar. “When I’m deciding what to do with my day or my dollars, I always ask myself: Is it going to make me happy in the long run? If it’s not contributing to my goals, it’s not worth it.”

How can I save more money?

In theory, spending (or saving) towards your goals is great, but we all make mistakes. A good way to make sure that you stay on track to reach your goals is to track your finances. “You know how at the end of some days you think: Where did all the time go? The seconds just fly by and it can be the same with cash if you’re not keeping an eye on your expenses,” Aeon explains. He tracks all his transactions to make sure that he is spending on the things that actually make him happy.  Tracking what you spend gives you a clear picture of where your money is going and makes it easier to align your spending with your goals.

You can also help yourself out by setting several smaller, shorter-term goals. Saving a large amount can feel very overwhelming. Aeon explains that it can be particularly difficult for people who have a tendency to discount time or, in other words, devalue rewards that are further away in the future. If you discount time, it can be harder to reach your saving goals because you’re more likely to opt for instant gratification over a long-term reward.

Luckily, you can help yourself out by working towards saving several smaller amounts that are easier to achieve (like $100 a month) instead of stressing over one big sum (like $1,200 by the end of the year). “Small wins give you the motivation to keep going,” Aeon says.

Sticking to a regular routine is another way to keep your finances in order. Aeon explains that the little things that you do repeatedly can lead to extraordinary outcomes. Wonderful things can happen because the little things add up.

“In college, I saved $50 a month, and it doesn’t sound like much but over the years it grew substantially. That’s the beauty of routines: They simplify life. For most people it makes sense to save by establishing a routine.” Automating your savings is a great way to get a routine going with your finances.

Invest spare change

How can I save more time?

Tracking what you spend, setting short-term financial goals and sticking to a saving routine are easy techniques to help you take control of your finances, but ultimately time is more valuable than money.  “You have to strike a balance that works for you between spending money and saving time,” Aeon says.  

In some instances, it’s smarter to spend than to save. Think about the things you hate doing and consider if there is a way to buy those moments back.  Laundry? Cooking? Cleaning? If you can afford to outsource some of these activities, you can free up more time in your schedule to do what makes you happy.

That’s why investing in more time is a wise choice. “In North America, if we aren’t busy, we’re considered lazy or we start to feel guilty. But, despite the social pressure to constantly be doing something, I think it’s smart for people to buy time if it means they’ll have more minutes to do what they love,” says Aeon.

In fact, Harvard researcher Ashley Whillans found that people were happier when they bought themselves hours by outsourcing tasks. Whether you’re spending on laundry service, a meal kit delivery or even a robot vacuum, buying time can be a good investment in your happiness.

Now, you may be thinking that the easiest way to reach ambitious financial goals is to get a raise. But earning more doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll save more: A raise can mean longer hours that go hand in hand with stress. If you’re stressed, you might make irresponsible financial decisions, like indulging in shopping therapy. “If you go shopping to relieve stress, it costs money. That money comes from hours and hours of work so it’s kind of a vicious cycle,” says Aeon. You work more, but you need more income to feel good and that means less money to save. Saving money is important, but so is saving time for life. If you can strike a balance between the two, you can really have it all.

 

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Would you wait for marshmallows? Your answer says a lot about you.

The way we relate to time can have a significant impact on how we manage our marshmallows and our money. Let me explain.

In the late 1960s, a psychologist at Stanford named Walter Mischel ran a clever experiment known today as the Marshmallow Test. To study delayed gratification, he asked preschoolers to choose: They could have one fluffy confection immediately or wait fifteen minutes for two.

Decades later, follow-up studies found that the children who had waited for two marshmallows reported better life outcomes. Good things came to those that waited in this experiment. The two marshmallow kids had higher test scores, lower drug use and healthier body weight.

So what do marshmallows have to do with money or time management? This simple experiment led to research into a concept called time discounting, which says that some of us have a tendency to see a reward as less valuable when it’s further in the future. To a person who discounts, two marshmallows in 15 minutes are less enticing than one marshmallow right now. To them, the second marshmallow isn’t worth the cost of waiting 15 minutes. For the ones who wait, two marshmallows are worth the extra time spent.

Scenario One Scenario Two
Cost = Waiting 0 minutes 15 minutes
Benefit = Marshmallow 1 marshmallow 2 marshmallow

Time discounting has huge repercussions on the way people manage their schedule and also on the way they manage their finances.

Let’s swap sweets for cash: Would you choose $10 today or $100 next month? If you discount time heavily, chances are you’d pick $10. This may not seem that significant until you consider what effect this could have on your finances (and your life) over the years.

Imagine if someone gave you the choice between $10 and $100 every month? A year of discounting (choosing the $10) would lead you to make $120. If you waited for the $10 everytime, you could make $1,200 by the end of the year.

Time discounting can make it hard to save money because the future feels so far away, and this can also have a big impact on the quality of your life. Last year, I went to South Africa with a research team to study a form of time discounting in the outskirts of Cape Town. Our preliminary results suggest that future-oriented people might be more likely to escape poverty than people who tend to discount time more.

If you’re a one-marshmallow person, don’t worry. There’s a simple way that you can manage your life and finances to improve your savings: Bring the future closer to you.

Don’t worry. This doesn’t have to involve any time travel. Bringing the future closer to you is as easy as setting intermediary goals. For example, if your goal is to save $20,000 for a down payment on a house, start small. Set several smaller monthly goals that are easier to reach. Achieving incremental wins will feel rewarding and give you the motivation to keep moving closer towards your larger goal.  

In fact, this technique can make saving feel easier for anyone, regardless of what you think about marshmallows.

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Saving tips to try before you lose all hope, move to the woods and start living off the grid

If life is too expensive and you’ve got nothing in the bank, keep reading.

To boost your account balance, please don’t sell a kidney on the black market. (It’s illegal, guys.) Don’t turn to the lottery. (It’s not a sure thing.) And don’t quit modern society (i.e. all the costs that come with it) by disappearing into the deep Canadian wild to spend the rest of your days in solitude, surviving on berries and speaking only to the trees.

You can start keeping more of your hard-earned cash today by making some small changes to the way you handle your money. Here are some simple tips to save more this year.

CLUB SNUB

Keep your memberships and subscriptions in check. We know it’s cool to join the club, but you don’t have to be a member of every single one. Subscription services are appealing because they feel like an affordable luxury, but $12.99 here and $34.34 there will add up fast. Check your bank statements to get a full picture of what you’re paying every month, from weekly food box deliveries to gym memberships to streaming services. Anything you can do without? Unsubscribe.

ORDER’S UP

Make your lunch instead of buying it. At least occasionally. We know you are busy. Maybe the last thing you want to do to is make dinner so you can bring the leftovers to the office for another #SadDeskLunch? That’s okay. There are nights that cooking is just not possible, so don’t beat yourself up. But there are a few things you can do to help yourself out. Try making a large batch of something you love on the weekend (like chili, soup, or lasagna) and freeze individual portions so that you can grab ’em and go when time is precious during the week. Or, if there’s space in the office fridge, store the ingredients you’ll need to make a simple salad or sandwich on your break. Bonus: You’ll probably end up eating more healthy lunches, too.

LEARNING CURVE

Nobody expects you to know everything, but there’s no reason you can’t teach yourself a new skill if it’ll help you save. Cue the internet. If you want to learn how to repair a hole in a sweater or how to fix a squeaky old washing machine, just start browsing YouTube. In the habit of treating yourself to a monthly manicure? Paying extra for a shave at the barber? Or working with a trainer at the gym? Try turning to whatever subreddit works for guidance and DIY before you reach for your wallet.

SET AND FORGET

Set up automatic weekly or monthly deposits to your savings accounts. You can also try a round up app like Moka, which automatically invests your spare change, so you can watch your savings grow. When you automate your saving and investing, you only have to make the decision to be responsible once. Let time take care of the rest. You’ll thank yourself when you check your account a few months later. Trust us, it’s a treat to be pleasantly surprised (and not panicked) by your balance.

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NAME GAME

We know you need certain things to get ahead in this world. Dressing for success isn’t cheap and neither is the technology you need to connect with a professional network. You can, however, start being more selective about when and where you buy. Look for sales on your favourite fashion labels, buy refurbished electronics and, whenever possible, pick cheaper, no name products. Speaking of stuff…

CLEAN HOUSE

Sell your junk. Lots of people are embracing minimalism, or at least learning to fold their clothes the KonMari way, but the spirit of the lifestyle isn’t necessarily about having less. It’s more about only having what you love. The things in your life shouldn’t weigh you down with guilt (because they were too expensive or because you don’t use them enough). If that guitar you never play or mountain bike you never use are making you feel guilty, hawk ‘em.

MEAL DEAL

You know dinner and drinks are cheaper at home, but you don’t have to give up your social life if you decide to stay in. Organize a potluck with your friends or, if your crew doesn’t love to cook, plan a bottle party where everyone brings a different kind of liquor. You can take turns playing bartender, and you’ll never have to tip. Plus, volunteering to host means you’ll likely get the leftovers. If entertaining isn’t your thing, try a Bring Your Own Wine restaurant. Picking up a bottle on the way to dinner will make your bill way more palatable.

At the end of the day, saving more (i.e. spending less) comes down to being honest about what matters to you. You shouldn’t spend on everything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend on anything. Think about your priorities. Sure, shelling out for a night at the movies (popcorn included) costs real money, but if it’s the thing that brings you joy, why banish it from your budget? Try these tips once and then adopt what works best for you. Saving can feel so simple you won’t notice the difference, until you get your bank statement. So please don’t leave reality behind to go live in a tree stump without a Wi-Fi connection. You got this.

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Ask an expert: I always burn through my paycheque. Why can’t I save anything?

Do you find that you just can’t seem to save money even with a decent salary? The bad news: You make irrational financial decisions sometimes. The good news: You’re human, there’s a completely logical reason for why this happens, and there’s a simple solution.

Many economic models are based on the idea that we’re perfectly rational individuals who always make the best choices, but research (and life in general) shows otherwise. Sometimes we make errors of judgment because we take mental shortcuts.

One of these mental shortcuts is known as availability bias. The idea behind availability bias is that we tend to use the information that easily comes to mind when we make decisions.

Here’s a simple example of how availability bias can lead to bad financial decisions: Imagine Joey, an irrational human just like you, has $1000 in his chequing account. When he sees a a pair of shoes that cost $200, he decides to buy them. After all, he thinks, he has way more than that in his chequing account. Except that Joey isn’t looking at the whole picture. He’s looking at the balance in his account, but forgetting the fact that his $800 rent is due tomorrow.

Joey isn’t unique. Most people feel wealthier than they are when they have money in their bank account compared to when these funds are low. The credit card bill you have yet to receive and the phone bill that will arrive next month? They have much less impact on your decisions than the balance you see in your chequing account.

Luckily, there’s a simple way to prevent some of these irrational decisions that we’re hardwired to make. It’s called paying yourself first and the way it works is simple: Put some of your income aside every time you get paid. Paying yourself first can also be thought of as a method of systematically saving for the future.

Whether you decide to put the money in a savings account or an investment account is less important than the fact that you actually separate it from your day-to-day chequing account. If it’s not in your chequing account, it’s harder to access and you’ll have less temptation to spend it.

Paying yourself first allows you to build up your wealth consistently over time. It’s also a fantastic way to get your finances under control. Anyone who is receiving an income can adapt the method to their needs.

So how much should you put aside? That depends on your situation, including your income, expenses and debt. Experts generally recommend saving anywhere from 10% to 20% of what you earn. To make it easy, you can ask your employer or bank to make automatic deposits on every pay cheque. You can also automatically put money aside for the future by using Moka, which rounds up your everyday purchases and invests the spare change in a diversified portfolio.

However you choose to pay yourself first, the sooner you get started, the better prepared you will be for the future!