10 Pieces Of Personal Finance Wisdom We Owe To Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Canada’s no-nonsense money expert, retired last year (comfortably, we presume). And seeing as she made her exit while the debt-to-income ratio of Canadians crept towards a record high, Vaz-Oxlade’s trademark real-talk on saving, spending and expensive lattes is sadly missed. Here are some of Vaz-Oxlade’s wisest, timeless nuggets of personal finance wisdom.

Create spending priorities:

“Figure out what’s important to you. So what is it you really want? Is it eating out and spending time with your friends? Or do you want to own a home of your own? Decide, because you may not in fact want to own [a home] — you may simply be bowing to the pressures around you to own.”

Tax your fast-food:

“Keep a container in your car and every time you pick up a coffee, grab a sub or munch on a muffin, drop a buck in your bag. This will be your Fast Food Tax. Hey, if you can find the money for the coffee, you can find the money to save for your wedding too!”

Don’t leave the finances to one partner:

“It’s not unusual for one person to assume the nitty-gritty of daily finances…. The problem is that when one person is excluded, or totally abdicates responsibility, it means the other can mess things up with no monitoring or grow resentful at always having to do the detail…. Taking turns managing the chequebook, and having regular conversations so that both of you are clear about what’s going on, means you’re both in the know and working to the same ends. It also means that one person doesn’t have to deal with all the crap, while the other merrily laughs off the stress and frustration with, ‘You’re managing the money, so this is your problem to deal with.’ (Yes, there are dopes who say this.)”

Forget the fancy wine:

“$20 is about as much as you need to spend to get a great bottle of wine. And there are $10 bottles that taste great too! And if you’re going to be drinking all night, start with a more expensive $20 bottle, and then switch to the cheaper stuff later in the evening. Most people won’t notice.”

Don’t buy into retail therapy:

“Plastic is anesthetic — it dulls the pain, and then what happens is you just keep waiting for the next fake high.”

Cut the coffee:

“If you’re saving $20 a week by drinking less coffee (or taking it from home) and you’re 30 years old, eliminating that one bad habit will mean $84,000 in your pocket. Yup, $84,000! That’s some pretty expensive coffee.”

Be open with your partner about spending:

“I’m truly amazed at the number of people who hide stuff from their partners. They go shopping, bring home a bag of stuff, and rip off the tags — because, of course, their partners are morons and won’t recognize a new outfit when they see it…. If you can’t be open about what you’re buying, that should tell you something. If you think your partner is going to object to your spending, hey, listen up! And if you’re planning to mate and you haven’t sat down to talk about your money, you’re a fool, plain and simple.”

Don’t plan on early retirement:

“Life is for living. Saving is for the future. Doing either to the extreme, or neither for the sake of the other, is dumb. And so is the idea of spending the last 35 years of life doing nothing productive. Add 10 years back into the working equation and you not only put more money in your retirement savings pool, but you spend less years living on that pool of cash.”

Don’t use credit like as a back-up plan:

“If you bought that sales pitch that a line of credit (or any credit) is an emergency fund, you was fooled! Credit is debt waiting to happen and debt can be an emergency of its own. Sure, that line may see you through until you get another job. But then you’ll have to deal with getting that sucker paid off.”

Slow and steady is how you repay debt:

“One step at a time. You are on your way. Expect challenges. Keep your goal where you can see it.”

This piece was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2017.

By Katie Underwood


As first time homebuyers, we had a lot to learn about buying a place, but Maureen was always happy to walk us through absolutely everything. We are so grateful for her patience and dedication as we searched for our dream home. She even helped us put in a last minute offer on the airplane home from a trip – that’s commitment to your client! We are beyond excited to move into our new home. Thanks, Maureen!

10 Rules For Living In A Tiny Apartment

WHENEVER possible, try to use items that are multipurpose.

The world is getting smaller and so, it seems, are apartments. Whether you embrace the tiny-living movement or have unwillingly had it thrust upon you, many people are living in smaller spaces these days and having to find creative ways to make it work. Small spaces have their benefits: they’re cheap, they’re simple, and they may force you to get rid of some of the junk you’ve been hauling around with you your whole life. And fortunately, it’s still possible to live large, even in the most miniscule space. There are plenty of ways to keep claustrophobia at bay. Here are ten of them:

1. Start paying attention to legs

No, not your legs (although walking into things can be a risk in small spaces) — your furniture’s. When a piece of furniture like a couch sits directly on the ground, it creates the feeling of a blocked-off space. But get a couch with legs, and suddenly it’s lighter, more shaped, and less of a burden. Plus, you can store stuff under it if comes to that. The “look for legs” rule doesn’t just apply to couches. Tables, chairs, and shelves all feel less like space-hogs when they’re standing rather than sitting. When in doubt, pin legs are always a great option: they’re light, thin, and a classic design feature.

2. Pay attention to your colours

It’s not a hard and fast rule that the small-apartment dweller must paint their space white, but if you’re susceptible to the feeling that walls are closing in on you, it might be a good option. Light colours tend to make a space feel more open, so take own claustrophobia into account, and if your tolerance is low, go light. Otherwise, you may find yourself relating a bit too much to Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
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5 Annual check-up tips for your home!

I hate to use the F word but FALL is among us and there is no better time to start doing some annual check ups on your home before the cold weather kicks in and you’ll have every excuse not to get things done. Here are 5 things around the house to check annually. By being proactive with these listed items, I could actually help save you thousands of dollars down the road!!

Try to stay aware of potential issues that lurk in the furnace room, behind your walls and up on the roof. If you keep on top of your yearly maintenance, you won’t need to pay big bucks down the road to fix major problems. Here are some of my best tips for your home’s fall physical.

1. Green light

If you own an older home and your furnace is 20 years old or more, it’s well worth the investment to replace it with a high-efficiency Energy Star-rated model. If your furnace was installed no more than 10 years ago, look for ways to improve “the building envelope” to help reduce energy loss. Fall is a great time to check out the seals on windows and doors, for starters, and change your furnace’s filter. If you can, have an energy audit done every five years to keep tabs on the mechanical systems in your home.

2. All charged up

You should replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors twice a year. A good rule to follow is to check your detectors when you change your clocks in the spring and fall. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide monitoring system in your home, please buy one. They cost less than $100 and have been proven to save lives.
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Protect Yourself – Reading Strata Documents Properly

Take the time to do your due diligence before you buy – it can save you thousands of dollars

Almost daily, CHOA advisors receive a call from a buyer claiming there is an upcoming major special levy for repairs or a condition in the bylaws that they knew nothing about. The new owner is shocked by the new information and frustrated that neither the agent nor the seller told them anything. Unfortunately, the buyers often come to realize the information was in their hands, but they failed to review the documents, they refused to obtain documents, or they ignored the risks. As a condo buyer, obtaining as many of the strata documents as possible, and taking the time to read them, is your best insurance against unexpected problems.

What to Ask For

Knowing what documents to obtain, where to get them and the critical information to look for is an essential part of the home-buying process. Most buyers begin with the Information Certificate (Form B). The form discloses the unit’s current monthly strata fees, money owing by the owner other than amounts paid into court, any agreements an owner has signed where they have taken responsibility for the cost of any alterations, amounts owed for a special levy that has already been approved, projections of deficits, balance of the contingency fund, approved bylaw amendments not yet filed in land titles, any three-quarter votes approved but not yet filed in land titles, any court proceedings, any judgments or orders against a strata,  work orders or notices on the strata lot, number of current rentals, parking stalls and storage lockers allocated to the strata lot, rules and current budget of the strata, an owner developer’s rental disclosure establishing exemptions, and the most recent depreciation report. 
That is the basic menu of information that has to be disclosed for every strata corporation. But you should also take a look at other documents available to buyers that are rarely requested. An owner, tenant, or person authorized to request documents such as the real estate agent is permitted to request historic documents that may provide a buyer with critical information.

Digging Deeper

A copy of the insurance policy for example, is a good indication of the risks managed by the strata. If the water escape deductible is $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000, it is a good bet there have been frequent claims in the building. Your next question as a buyer is: what’s the cause? If it is a result of failed plumbing systems that need to be upgraded, special levies are on the horizon. Ask questions. It may be the upgrades are complete and it’s a matter of a few years before the deductibles come down again. As an owner, you are exposed to those high deductibles as a common expense for the strata, and personally if the cause of a flood is from your strata lot. 
The Strata Property Act also now requires strata corporations to maintain copies of any reports obtained by the strata corporation respecting repair and maintenance of major items, including engineering reports, risk management reports, sanitation reports, and environmental assessments. If there has been asbestos testing on the building, the strata must retain a copy of that report.

Go Back Two Years in the Strata Minutes

If you request and read the strata minutes of council meetings and general meetings for at least the past two years, they should provide you with a sense of the strata business. Make a list of maintenance, emergencies, long-term planning decisions, insurance claims, and funding decisions. You can cross reference them in the documents you receive. Sterile minutes where nothing happens is a strata that is generally hiding something.
“Buyer beware” for condo buyers should read, “buyer be aware.” If the strata corporation is not providing a document requested, or there is confusion about allocation of parking or storage, or there is missing information, you might want to rethink your decision. Read everything and if in doubt request more information. Five hours of your time could end up in you avoiding a $55,000 special levy.

Tony Gioventu
 Condominium Home Owners Association. Courtesy of

6 things to do when moving into a New House

Moving into your first home is exciting! But it also means you’ve got work to do.

1. Change the locks. You really don’t know who else has keys to your home, so change the locks. That ensures you’re the only person who has access. Install new deadbolts yourself for as little as $10 per lock, or call a locksmith — if you supply the new locks, they typically charge about $20-$30 per lock for labor.

2. Check for plumbing leaks. Your home inspector should do this for you before closing, but it never hurts to double-check. I didn’t have any leaks to fix, but when checking my kitchen sink, I did discover the sink sprayer was broken. I replaced it for under $20.

Keep an eye out for dripping faucets and running toilets.

Here’s a neat trick: Check your water meter at the beginning and end of a two-hour window in which no water is being used in your house. If the reading is different, you have a leak.

3. Steam clean carpets. Do this before you move your furniture in, and your new home life will be off to a fresh start. You can pay a professional carpet cleaning service — you’ll pay about $50 per room; most services require a minimum of about $100 before they’ll come out — or you can rent a steam cleaner for about $30 per day and do the work yourself. I was able to save some money by borrowing a steam cleaner from a friend.

4. Wipe out your cabinets. Another no-brainer before you move in your dishes and bathroom supplies. Make sure to wipe inside and out, preferably with a non-toxic cleaner, and replace contact paper if necessary.

5. Give critters the heave-ho. That includes mice, rats, bats, termites, roaches, and any other uninvited guests. There are any number of DIY ways to get rid of pests, but if you need to bring out the big guns, an initial visit from a pest removal service will run you $100-$300, followed by monthly or quarterly visits at about $50 each time.

6. Introduce yourself to your circuit breaker box and main water valve. It’s a good idea to figure out which fuses control what parts of your house and label them accordingly. This will take two people: One to stand in the room where the power is supposed to go off, the other to trip the fuses and yell, “Did that work? How about now?”

You’ll want to know how to turn off your main water valve if you have a plumbing emergency, if a hurricane or tornado is headed your way, or if you’re going out of town. Just locate the valve — it could be inside or outside your house — and turn the knob until it’s off. Test it by turning on any faucet in the house; no water should come out.

Is It wise for you to downsize?

Downsizing is something that a lot of people consider later in life. When you’re younger and have a family at home, buying a large home with a backyard makes sense, but later on, for various reasons, selling your home and downsizing to something smaller might make sense for you. If you’re thinking about it, here are some things to consider to determine if it’s wise for you to downsize.

Why are you really moving?

To figure out what the best downsizing decision is for you, the first step is to really think about why you’re thinking about moving and downsizing in the first place. Is it because you want to travel more? Is it because your current house is too big with too many empty rooms? Is it because you no longer want to do the upkeep of mowing the lawn or shovelling the snow? Once you can answer the ‘why’, you can figure out the ‘what’.

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Selling or Just Curious?

Five Uses for your home’s market value report

I’m often contacted by home sellers who want to know the value of their home because it’s vital when they go to market. However, there are other uses for a market value report whether you’re selling or staying.

Here are 5 examples:

  1. Want to renovate?
    The report can help you determine which projects will increase your home’s value the most.
  2. Why are nearby homes selling? And, for how much?
    You can see the “for sale” and “sold” signs up, but your report will give you an idea of market prices and nearby home features.
  3. What types of homes are buyers looking for today?
    The report will help you time your sale by providing insight into current home sales.
  4. Is it the right time to move up or downsize?
    See how markets are trending to get the best deal on a new home and your own sale
  5. Do I have equity that I can enjoy?
    The report can show you refinancing opportunities. I’m happy to provide home value assessment reports at no cost: it’s my job to know your market.