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5 tips for financial success in 2020

If you, like many Canadians, have a New Year’s resolution related to improving your personal finances, you’re in luck.

The beginning of the year (and decade!) is the perfect opportunity to get yourself set up for long-term financial success, and we’ve got some easy tips to help you do it.

1. Wanna move forward? You gotta look back.

Having goals keeps you motivated and gives you something specific to work towards throughout the year. But before you set those goals, take a look back on 2019. 

Figure out where you currently stand financially: 

  • How much do you currently have saved? 
  • Are you still carrying any debt? 
  • How much do you owe?
  • How much income do you have coming in?
  • How much money did you spend every month?
  • What did you spend it on?

Having this information will help you develop your game plan and will put you on track for major 2020 success.

PROTIP: Set goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Framed.Wanna move forward? You gotta look back.Want control of your spending? Create a budget. 

2. Want control of your spending? Create a budget.

We know, we know. Creating a budget doesn’t sound like much fun, but when it comes to money, ignorance isn’t bliss. 

The good news is that a budget is just a plan for your money and can be as simple or as complicated as you want. Check out this article for a quick 3-step budget. 

Of course, telling your money where to go is one thing. It’s also important to keep an eye on where it actually goes. Regularly tracking your spending will show you your financial habits, areas where you can cut back, and will help you stay on budget.

PROTIP: Download an app like Mint, YNAB, or Wally to do the work for you.

3. Don’t wanna miss a thing? Set calendar reminders. 

Time to get organized. Make sure you don’t miss important financial dates by putting them into your calendar now. 

This includes major dates like tax deadlines (April 30, 2020), RRSP contribution cutoffs (March 2, 2020) and car registration renewals. But don’t forget to put in when your car insurance is set to renew, or when service contracts (like phone or internet), subscriptions and memberships end. Knowing when things are coming up gives you time to research and shop around if necessary. 

PROTIP: Don’t forget to set reminders for any credit card payments to ensure you don’t negatively affect your credit score.

4. Want an easy win? Start small. 

At Moka, we’re big believers that the little things really add up. So if the other tips seem a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Just find one small thing you can do now that’ll have a positive impact on your finances.

Maybe it’s cancelling that online subscription you never use, or downloading a personal finance podcast, or even just installing a handy money saving extension or app like Honey.

You might even find that this gives you the motivation you need to tackle the bigger tasks!

PROTIP: Check out this list of the best money-saving apps and websites in Canada.

5. Want an easy, stress-free solution? Automate everything.

You can create automatic payments for everything these days, from your rent or mortgage payments to credit card and debt repayments. If you’d rather not worry about finances for the rest of the year, just set it and forget it.

You can also automatically pay yourself first by setting up a recurring deposit from your main account into a savings or investment account on the day you get paid.

PROTIP: Want to reach your financial goals even faster? In addition to automatic weekly deposits, you can also automatically round up your purchases and invest the spare change with Moka.

Achieving your financial goals isn’t always easy, but by following these five tips, you’ll be starting the year off in the best position possible.

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How to get your bank to waive your Non-Sufficient Funds (NSF) fee

“Take my money!” said no one to any financial institution, ever.  

Most of us have had the frustrating experience of checking our bank accounts, only to find our bank has hit us with a non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee because of a declined withdrawal that exceeded our bank balance. NSFs are usually the result of a short-term cash flow issue, and getting hit with a double-digit charge from your bank when you’re clearly tight on cash, to begin with, can often feel like a low blow.

If you’ve been the recipient of one of these fees, we have some good news.  By following a few simple steps, you can usually get that bank fee reversed.  

What are NSF fees?

A bank will charge you a non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee when there is an attempt to withdraw more money than the available funds in your bank account. NSFs, or overdraft fees, can occur when a cheque is processed or when automatic charges are placed on your account, like a pre-authorized debit from subscription service, a scheduled bill payment, and even the bank’s own service charges. Canadian banks charge between $25 and $48 as an NSF penalty every time a transaction drops you below zero, even if you were only missing a few dollars to cover the cost. 

I got an NSF…now what? 

Ask to have the fee reversed. I promise you it’s that easy!  If your bank account is in good standing and if it’s the first time you’ve ever incurred an NSF (or even the first time in a while), your continued business is more important to the bank than the $45 they’re trying to collect.  When requesting to have your NSF fee waived, be sure to follow these basic guidelines. 

Be nice

It’s normal to get riled up about the fee, but wait until you’ve cooled down to make the call to your bank. Being polite goes a long way. Put on your best customer service voice, keep calm, and be friendly. Start the call on the right foot by asking the agent how their day is going, and letting them know that you’re sorry to bother them, but that you were wondering if they could help you with a problem you’re having. Put yourself in their shoes. Isn’t it always easier to be patient and helpful with someone that is pleasant, friendly, polite and just in need of a helping hand?

Be persistent  

If you’ve gotten NSF fees before or frequently defaulted on credit payments, it’s possible that you might be refused for a refund. Inquire how else they might be able to help you. There is magic in the question, “If you can’t waive the fee, is there any other way that you can help me?”. Encourage them to work with you to find a solution. The customer service agent that you’re speaking with usually has more empathy than people give them credit for, and the last thing they want to admit is, “I can’t help you”.  

Avoid NSF fees altogether

Follow these straightforward suggestions to prevent incurring a non-sufficient fund fee in the first place.

  1. Get protected
    Most banks have overdraft protection options that can be added to your existing account for a small monthly fee.  If you’ve had multiple NSFs in the past few months, this will probably be money well spent. Talk to your bank about the best solution based on your account and spending habits.

  2. Get reminded
    Many banks will offer an email alert service to notify you when your account balance dips below a specified threshold. This “heads up” can give you the time you need to transfer funds into your account or even reach out to the people or companies that might be about to process a withdrawal on your account and request a delay in the transaction until you have the funds to cover it.

    Pro tip: Put all your subscriptions and bill payments into your calendar with reminders and now you’ve got a single place to look when you want to see when scheduled payments are going through your account. This is also a good place to record the date your “free trials” end so that you can keep subscription-related costs to only the services that you really want to pay for.

  3. Get a new baseline
    Resetting your expectations around your bank account balance can help keep you out of the red. Keep a buffer in your bank account of $100 – $200 and consider that amount as your real zero.  When you get caught off guard with an unexpected payment, you’ll be in a better place to avoid an overdraft.

  4. Get a budget
    Set up a separate bank account that all of your bills and automatic payments come out of, and only use it to pay those bills.  As long as you keep that account funded with the amount of money you need to cover your monthly bills, you’ll always be above water. Then use a different account to manage your discretionary funds. Here’s a helpful monthly expenses template that you can use to plan a simple budget.

Plan for the unexpected

We all experience dry spells in cash flow. Planning for the unexpected and setting aside a little bit of money each week can ensure that you have cash in a pinch when times get tough.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada recommends that Canadians keep an emergency fund of three to six months of living expenses, but they also stress that any amount is better than nothing.

Pro tip:
Automate your savings with Moka and build an emergency fund by putting aside a little bit each week.

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Buy your cake and eat it, too: how to make your grocery budget work double time

Grocery shopping may take a bigger piece of your budget pie chart next year. In fact, a recent report predicts the average Canadian family will spend $411 more on groceries in 2019 due to rising food prices.

Luckily, you don’t have to overhaul your grocery list. These simple strategies can help you shave a little off each grocery bill, which will add up to substantial savings over time.

Plan ahead

It’s hard to plan for tomorrow’s dinner when all you can think about is what you want for lunch today. But a little bit of forethought is always a worthwhile investment.

If you need inspiration, sites like Supercook help by matching the ingredients you have on hand with popular recipes from all over the web.

Planning out a few meals for the week helps you buy ingredients you need and avoid throwing out food you don’t. Thinking ahead also means fewer trips to the store,so you can spend your time and money on something more fun. Like your aspiring polka band. Or Fortnite.

Make a list

Even if your mental recall rivals Sherlock Holmes’. Even if you took one of those photographic memory tests and somehow—against all odds—passed. Even if you once memorized all of Alice’s lines for your Grade 5 debut in Alice in Wonderland (she’s in every scene). You should still write out a grocery list.

Having a list in hand keeps your attention on track. You’re more likely to get in and out of the store without a meandering detour down the chip aisle.

It’s the same reason you’re never supposed to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry: you will fall prey to million-dollar-marketing, wind up with ice cream and mozzarella sticks, and have to come back the next day.

Get paid to shop

“Do you have a points/rewards/loyalty card with us?”

Sounds good in theory. But juggling multiple cards and programs isn’t easy.

Enter the next generation of integrated cashback and rewards apps. You can link them directly with your debit and credit cards and get cash rewards for shopping your favourite brands.

Some, like Drop, work on a points system—similar to a cash back credit card without a new line of credit. Different brands offer different points per dollar spent, and you can turn those points into gift cards.

Checkout 51 or Caddle are other options that focus specifically on groceries. Participating in one of their weekly offers adds up to a check mailed right to your house.

These apps focus on brands rather than stores, so you don’t have to change where you shop, and you can also shop online. Now you have an excuse to order those Wasabi Kit Kats from Japan.

Outsource your produce selection

What’s one way to save time and money and tackle the problem of food waste? Let someone else pick your fruit and veg for you.

Produce is expected to see the biggest price hike, with increases between 4 and 6 percent in 2019. One potential answer? The curated subscription box.

For a weekly fee, you can receive a box of pre-selected produce. Some companies, like Montreal’s Lufa Farms, focus on local produce. They even use new agricultural technologies to grow in urban zones. Others, like Flash Food in Toronto, deal exclusively in surplus produce—items a grocery store might otherwise throw away.

Subscription services save you time and money compared to picking out produce at the grocery store yourself. Plus, choosing organic, surplus, and local produce is a socially responsible way to shop.

Buy in bulk (when it makes sense)

Stocking up on bulk toilet paper and rice add up to big savings in the long run. But beware: bargain bulk stores like Costco are full of temptations more expensive than their $1.50 hot dogs.

Stick to household products and non-perishables with a long shelf life, and stay away from too much produce at the risk of throwing some of it away.

As you put together a budget for the new year, remember that a bit of forethought really adds up. Adopting small habits now can have a big impact on your long-term grocery spending. So you can buy your cake and eat it, too.

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How to crush your New Year’s resolutions all year long

Resolutions are exciting, but sticking it out can also feel challenging. Whether you have the hope to improve your finances or fitness, learn something new, or quit a bad habit, it’ll take persistence to achieve your goal.  Luckily, there are some easy things you can do to make your New Year’s resolution a reality.

Chart a path

When you’re tackling resolutions, mapping out your path to success in advance will keep you motivated throughout the year. What do you have to do every day, week or month to achieve your resolution before next January? Commit your plan to paper by investing in a planner or track your progress in an app like Productive, and turn to your map as a source of inspiration when you feel stuck or discouraged. Remember to plan for obstacles: detours are part of the process. Each day is an opportunity to start fresh.

Take it slow

A little bit every day will go a long way.  Want to start meditating? Flip on a free guided Headspace lesson for three minutes each morning and build from there week by week. Learning a new language?  Download Duolingo and practice Spanish for just 5 minutes every day.  Saving for a down payment? Start small by  investing your spare change with Moka.  Good things take time and just a small consistent effort will add up over time.

Celebrate your success

Keeping yourself motivated and mindful of how far you’ve come is so important. Celebrate the milestones, no matter how big or small. Were you under budget on your grocery shopping this month? Amazing. Did you shave a minute off your 3 km run? That’s huge. There will be many smaller success stories on your way to achieving your end goal, and they deserve recognition.

Another way you can celebrate is to bring your friends and family into your support system with a commitment contract like stickK. Wager friendly bets throughout the year as you work towards a happy and healthier you.  

Consider the cost

It’s vital to think about how much your resolution will cost. If you want to start working out at the gym or finally take that trip to Europe this year, then achieving your resolution won’t be free. Figure out how much you need to spend or save to achieve your goal, and check in every month to make sure you’re making the most of your money.  Unfortunately, 67% of people who sign up for gym memberships don’t use them, but the pre-approved payments will just keep coming! So before you lock yourself into an expensive service, find out if there is a more affordable way to ease into your resolution. (YouTube exercise classes, anyone?)

Invest the difference

If your resolution involves cutting back on something, like smoking or ordering fast food, consider investing the cash that you would’ve spent every week. Imagine a vacation purchased solely with money that would’ve been spent on burgers! You could also use the money you saved to donate to a cause that’s close to your heart.

Automate the process

Achieving your goals isn’t going to be easy, so why not take all the help you can get! Want to save more this year? Setting up a recurring deposit with Moka. will ensure you’re putting money aside every week without having to stress.  Resolving to decrease your screen time? Wean yourself off social media with Space, an app that will hide your social accounts from you when you want to disconnect. Want to learn to cook? Try out a food subscription box: there are always great deals out there for first-time subscribers.

Change doesn’t always happen overnight. If you fall off the resolution wagon,  just dust yourself off and get right back on up there! There’s no reason you have to wait for the next New Year to start again.  

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5 ways to (affordably) escape the cold this winter

Think winter travel is out of reach? Not so fast. You don’t have to stick it out in the snow this year if you’re willing to get just a little thrifty with your travelling. There are many ways to catch some sunshine without shelling out more than you can afford. Here’s how you can swing a winter getaway.

Don’t discount Europe

Let’s be real. It’s cold in Canada. Any temperature over 0°C can feel downright tropical during winter. If you like exploring cities, visit the Iberian peninsula—think Lisbon in Portugal and Barcelona in Spain—where winters are 30°C warmer than Montreal this time of year. Islands like Madeira, Crete and Malta also stay sunny throughout our Canadian winter. The best part? You’ll pay off-season prices. Bonus: You’ll also beat the crazy summer crowds.

A beach by any other name

If you’re craving a tropical locale but don’t want to burn your budget, look beyond the major beach destinations. A  vacation at a big name beach like Cancun can cost top sand dollar, but lesser known towns in Mexico like Troncones offer the same sunshine for a smaller cost. (Just be prepared for a longer commute from the airport!) You’ll save even more if you aren’t set on a room with an ocean view. Staying a few streets away from the beach will leave you with more money for margaritas anyway.

Live like a local

Forget fancy hotels. Rent a room in town where you can experience what it is like to really live in winter paradise. People who rent out their houses on sites like Airbnb can steer you away from tourist traps and share inexpensive ideas for fun. Imagine booking a room in Bridgetown, Barbados, discovering your host is a local club owner, and scoring an invite to hang out with her friends on Saturday night? You’ll see an authentic side of the place when you’re with the people who live there full-time, plus you can save on eating out by making meals at your new home away from home. And if you’re really about that luxury life (infinity pool, anyone?), a day pass for the hotel facilities should be cheaper than staying overnight.

Look for Boxing Week deals

During the holidays, booking last minute can actually save you money! In fact, international flights are 14% cheaper during the week of Boxing Day, according to affordable travel site Skyscanner. Look for discounts with major airlines and snap up the best all inclusive deal you can find. Air Canada Vacations is already offering up to 50% off this year for Boxing Day, and Air Transat, Sunwing and WestJet have all announced boxing day sales in previous years, so stay tuned.

New Year, new place

It’s tempting to want to get away from the chaos of Christmas and New Year’s, but it’s cheaper to fly in January or February than December. Sure, it’ll be hard to watch all those Instagram stories of everyone in Tahiti while you’re snowed in, but you’ll show them! When everyone else is back at work, you’ll be heading off to Costa Rica to swim with the turtles for a fraction of the cost. Plus, you can get the inside scoop about what to do from friends who just came from there.

Here’s an extra tip: The more you plan what you’ll spend (and what you won’t!), the more fun you’ll have when you’re there. While you’re on vacation, you should be taking a break from the daily stressors of your normal life. If you’ve planned in advance, you won’t have to think about what you can afford while you’re there. Plus, having a budget and sticking to it will reduce stress when you return home (because you won’t be waiting for a terrifying credit card bill).

Just remember, all the planning will pay off when you’re poolside sipping coconut water from an actual coconut. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen!

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How to get in the giving spirit without breaking the bank

Holiday shopping stressing you out? It’s easy to get carried away, but this time of year is really about spending time with the people you love, not spending all your money! Here are some holiday hacks for an affordable giving season.

Rediscover the gift exchange


Instead of shopping for every single person you’ve ever met, invite friends and family to join a Secret Santa. This kind of gift exchange is great for giving on a budget, plus it’s a fun way to spend time together and there’s no limit to how many people can join. The premise is simple: Participants are randomly assigned someone to bestow with a gift. Draw names from a hat (if you’re traditional) or use a free online name generator: We used Draw Names for Secret Santa at the Moka office.


For a White Elephant gift exchange, participants simply have to show up with a wrapped present. Each player is given a number that determines their place in line. (Alphabetical order by first name is one easy way to do it, but you can get creative.)  First up opens any present. Next up can either unwrap another present or steal an opened gift from someone. If your gift is snatched, you can steal another or head back to the pile. Limiting how many times a gift can be stolen keeps the game on track.

Santa’s Little Helper: Set a dollar limit for the gift that everyone can afford. Start a Google Spreadsheet where you can anonymous drop hints about yourself and other participants; this will help people decide what to buy. A fun seasonal theme can also inspire players.

Consider homemade gifts


Recipe jars are incredibly easy and versatile: Just pick up some mason jars and assemble the dry ingredients for anything from chocolate chip oatmeal cookies to coconut curry soup. If you personalize each jar with some ribbon and a note, you can completely skip wrapping paper. Plus, there’s absolutely no cooking skill required, and you can knock out all your shopping at the grocery store.


So you’re not Martha Stewart? Don’t worry. You can still hand craft something for a loved one, and if you’re not sure where to start I’ve got one word for you: YouTube. It’s incredible what you can do with some fabric and a hot glue gun, paper and scissors, or even dollar store Christmas baubles and an old wire hanger.


Isn’t time the most precious gift of all? Handmade coupons are a fun, personalized gift that don’t have to cost you anything. Write down your promise to do something together that the recipient loves (like playing a video game) or simply commit to liberating them from a household chore whenever they cash in the coupon. Humour is highly encouraged (i.e. This coupon is good for winning one argument.)

And don’t forget the gift wrap!


Fancy wrapping paper doesn’t come cheap, but beautiful packaging can really make a gift. Old newspapers, magazines, and flyers are totally underrated wrapping options that are both environmentally friendly and free. Try pages full of text for a modern black and white look or use the cartoon pages for something more colourful. Brown paper bags are also easy to repurpose and can be spruced up with twine and a sprig of Douglas fir or holly.

If you’re shopping this holiday season, figure out what you can afford first and then stick to the plan. There’s no need to completely freeze your account, but you don’t have to go in the red to prove you care. Afterall, the greatest gift you can give yourself is a debt-free New Year.

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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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7 tips for first-time homebuyers from Canada’s top real estate agents

Thinking about purchasing your first house? This is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life, but that doesn’t mean you have to walk in blind.

We reached out to some of Canada’s top real estate agents and curated their best advice for first-time homebuyers. Keep reading to learn how to find your new home.

1. Figure out what you can actually afford

In the world of house hunting, figuring out your finances comes down to getting preapproval for a mortgage. Toronto realtor Zuzana Misik says getting preapproved is vital. “First time buyers (and actually all buyers) need to get preapproved so they know exactly how much they can afford,” Misik says.

Checking your budget before you check out any houses also makes the process more enjoyable. Stephanie King, a Toronto real estate agent who personally closed 24 sales last year, recommends meeting with a mortgage agent to determine exactly how much you can spend. “This way, we’ll know the price range we should be looking in and you won’t be looking over budget, which can be discouraging,” King says.

Montreal real estate agent Amy Assaad also points out a practical benefit to getting preapproved early. “There are often multiple offers on a good property. You’re more likely to be considered than a person who doesn’t have their financing in order. It will make your offer a lot stronger,” Assaad explains.


2. Budget for more than just your mortgage payments

Preapproval is important, but purchasing a house involves a variety of costs that many first-time buyers don’t consider.

Ottawa realtor Mario Lemieux recommends that all first-time buyers make a budget so they really understand their financial commitment. Check out Lemieux’s website for a comprehensive list of what to include in your budget. You’ll see that Lemieux recommends including purchase-related expenses like inspection, insurance and legal fees as well as additional costs that you may rack up as a new homeowner, such as the price of new appliances or condominiums fees.

3. Research your real estate agent

Before you find a house, find the right real estate agent for the job.  If your real estate agent is familiar with your dream neighbourhood, then they’ll be able to save you time and money by recognizing a good opportunity when it comes.

“Select a good experienced realtor that will work hard to assist you in finding the best property possible within your budget, location, and criteria list,” Lemieux says.

A  good real estate agent should also be respectful of your needs and wants. You will be spending a lot of time with your agent, so chose one that you can speak with candidly.  “Make sure that you and your agent are on the same page,” Zuzana Misik adds.

4. Make a three year plan

You might think your first home will be  your forever home, but Amy Assaad says her clients want to upgrade sooner rather than later.   “You’ll get a boyfriend, you’ll get married: Life changes so fast!” she explains.

Assaad recommends making a three year plan and looking for a house that addresses your needs within this time period. In fact, searching with a three year plan (instead of a longer plan) in mind will open up more opportunities (i.e. properties) because your wishlist will be shorter.

Make sure you also consider how a three year plan will affect the mortgage you select: You’ll want a mortgage that is portable so you and your mortgage can move to a new property when you’re ready.

5. Create a very short wishlist

Toronto realtor Nikki Singh says you should “make a REALISTIC list of what you’re looking for and be open to adjust that list on your journey for the perfect home.”

Amy Assaad agrees, and suggests answering these four simple questions before you start your search:

  1. How many square feet do I need?
  2. How many bedrooms do I need?
  3. Do I need parking or will something close to public transit be okay?
  4. What neighbourhood do I want to live in?

Sure, a walk-in closet, jacuzzi and marble countertops would be nice to have, but you may miss out on some stellar properties if your wishlist is too detailed.

6. Look for a property with high resale value

Your house doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, you may get a better deal if it isn’t, and this gives you more room to profit on the property when you’re ready to upgrade to something bigger.

Assaad recommends thinking about supply and demand in the market and buying something that is likely to be more valuable soon. For example, if you live in a city, a dated detached house may be easier to resell than a modern apartment in a 300 unit building, simply due to the scarcity of single family dwellings. 

Assaad also points out that you can renovate your property, so that your house is more likely to sell for more than you bought it.  Upgrading a bathroom or kitchen can add a lot to the listing price, and landscaping a yard, adding hardwood floors or installing better lighting can also do a lot towards winning over buyers in the future.

7. When the time is right, it will happen!

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of buying a home, but remember that good things take time.

“First time home buyers want to jump in with two feet!” says Stephanie King. “This is great and I would never want to hold anyone back, but ensure your realtor is doing their proper due diligence by checking comparables in the neighbourhood and adding conditions, such as a status certificate or home inspection, to your offer. If you love a property, that is great,  but ultimately it should also be a smart investment.”

Nikki Singh agrees. “Don’t rush to purchase property. Once you are fully satisfied with the property, price, and neighbourhood, make an offer,” Singh says.

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Mortgage shopping? These 5 things are just as important as securing a low interest rate.

Many first time homebuyers are too focused on getting the lowest interest rate on their mortgage. I was, too, when I bought my first home five years ago at age 27. Luckily, I worked with a mortgage broker who educated me about why the mortgage with the lowest rate isn’t necessarily the best mortgage for me.  I became a mortgage broker myself so I could help others avoid this same mistake.

While finding a low mortgage rate is important, finding a mortgage that’s best suited to your financial needs is just as important. As I like to say, the mortgage with the lowest rate can help save you hundreds, but the wrong mortgage product can end up costing you thousands.

Here are the top five factors to consider (aside from a low rate) when you’re shopping for a mortgage.

1. Fixed vs. variable rate mortgages

If you’re a first time homebuyer, don’t automatically sign up for the safety and security of a 5-year fixed rate mortgage.

With a fixed rate mortgage, you don’t have to worry about your mortgage payment and interest rate changing because they are fixed for the duration of your mortgage term. Signing up for a fixed rate mortgage is sometimes referred to as “locking in.” Often, you’ll pay a price for that certainty: fixed rates are typically higher than the lowest interest rate offered by variable rate mortgages.

With a variable rate mortgage, your mortgage rate can change during your mortgage term based on a change to your lender’s prime rate. Although each lender sets its own prime rate, they almost always move in lockstep with the Bank of Canada’s overnight lending rate. (If our central bank increases interest rates by 0.25 percent, your lender’s prime rate is likely to go up 0.25 percent, and vice-versa.) Depending on your lender, your mortgage payment amount may or may not change when prime rate goes up or down–that’s why it’s so important to work with a mortgage broker who knows their stuff.

Carefully weigh the pros and cons of fixed versus variable before making a decision.

2. Prepayment privileges

If you want to pay off your mortgage faster, generous prepayment privileges come in handy.

Prepayments are powerful because they go directly towards reducing your mortgage balance, unlike a regular mortgage payment, which is split between interest and principal. In the early years of your mortgage, most of your money goes toward interest.  Prepayments can help you save thousands in interest and pay off your mortgage years ahead of schedule.

Types of prepayment privileges include options to increase your payment, double up your payment or make lump sum payments. While most lenders offer prepayments, some lenders are more flexible than others. Monoline lenders (or lenders that are only in the business of mortgages) tend to offer more generous and flexible prepayments. If prepayments are important to you, a broker can match you with a lender that lets you maximize them.

3. Mortgage penalties

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’m signing up for a mortgage. Why should I care about mortgage penalties? There’s no way I’m going to break my mortgage. While you may be right, there’s a chance you could be wrong. The facts speak for themselves. According to Canadian Mortgage Trends, 6 out of 10 will break their mortgage at some point. If you end up breaking your mortgage, wouldn’t you rather be with a lender that treats you fairly in terms of its mortgage penalties?

With a variable rate mortgage, you’ll typically pay three months of interest as a penalty for breaking your mortgage. With a fixed rate mortgage, your penalty can be a lot heftier. You’ll usually pay the greater of three months of interest or something called the Interest Rate Differential, which factors in your lender’s mortgage rates today against rates from the day you initially signed your mortgage. It’s this calculation that can result in heavy mortgage penalties. Each lender’s calculation of the Interest Rate Differential is different, but monoline lenders tend to offer fairer mortgage penalties than big banks and credit unions. If there’s any chance you could break your mortgage, look for a lender with a lower mortgage penalty.

4. Portability

If you don’t enjoy paying hefty mortgage penalties (I have yet to meet someone who does), then it helps to choose a lender with a mortgage that’s portable. With a portable mortgage, you can take your mortgage with you should you choose to sell your existing property and move to a new one during your mortgage term, and you’ll avoid paying a mortgage penalty. Some lenders let you blend and extend your mortgage if you’re buying a home for a greater purchase price.

5. Standard vs. collateral charges

Before signing up for a mortgage, be sure you ask if it comes with a standard or collateral charge–this information is often buried in the fine print. The word charge may be a little confusing, because this isn’t a fee that you must pay. A charge is the name of the document you sign to secure your mortgage; this is the document that your lender registers with the provincial or territorial land registry. A standard charge covers the specific amount, term and interest rate of your mortgage. A collateral charge, on the other hand, can be used to register multiple loans with the same lender, for example a mortgage and a line of credit.

A standard charge mortgage makes it easy to shop around and switch lenders when your mortgage comes up for renewal, usually at no cost to you. With a collateral charge mortgage, it makes it easier to take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), but that convenience comes at a cost. You may be required to pay legal and appraisal fees to switch lenders. If you don’t plan to take out a HELOC, you’re probably better off with a standard charge mortgage.

Next steps

Buying a home is most likely the single biggest financial transaction of your lifetime, so give it the attention that it deserves. Before you start shopping for a mortgage, take the time to figure out what your personal financial priorities are so it’s easier to work with a broker to find the mortgage that works best for you.


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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.