Enjoy Summer Festivities Without Going Broke

It’s no secret between my family and friends that I love the Calgary Stampede. Most people think it’s just the same thing every year and too expensive to keep going back. Not me! My favourite part of Stampede is how into it the city gets. The decorations are already up all over downtown and I am adding Stampede breakfasts and BBQs to my calendar on a daily basis.

So how do you partake in festivities like Stampede without going completely broke?

I’ve compiled a few tips to hopefully help you (and me!) keep our money in our wallets and a smile on our faces this summer!

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Photo by festivalseekers.com

1. Buy tickets/passes in advance for discounts.
Costco and Safeway are two places that sell Stampede Bucks or Ride & Play cards, respectively. They do sell out though, so it is important to get in early. The Costco Stampede Bucks will save you $10 ($40 for $50 in Bucks) and the Ride & Play cards can save you $20 on rides and games if that’s your thing. Look around at your local grocery stores for discounts for events near you!

2. Take advantage of discounted/free entry on Value Days.
The Stampede website has a list of Value Days that include discounted or free entry. This is definitely worth taking advantage of if you have kids! You may find that your local festivals or events offer discounted entry if you go late in the evening or early in the morning. Be sure to do some research!

3. Take Public Transit.
Parking at festivals is ridiculous. Don’t do it. Transit is cheap and can be convenient (especially if you decide to spend some of your saved money on a few beers…but you didn’t hear that from me). Some cities will offer discounted fares with your festival ticket. Calgary Transit is offering reduced day fares for adults and youths during Stampede.

4. Check out the free displays and shows instead of the pricey ones.
Going for a walk through the barns to pet the horses and check out the goats is free at Stampede. So is the SuperDogs show and everything on the Coke stage. While you may pay to get in, there’s plenty to do that doesn’t cost extra once you get through the gate. If your local events offer free entertainment that is included in your entrance fee, take advantage!

5. Buy last minute event tickets.
You may risk losing out, but often event tickets purchased at the last minute can be cheaper than those bought far in advance. Rodeo tickets, for example, can be had for about $20 on the day if you go to the box office on the Stampede grounds.

6. Don’t party with your rich friends.
One of the main reasons Stampede can be expensive is the cover charge to places like Cowboys and the cost of drinks (and the inevitable tub of mini donuts that follows). Prices are inflated during events like Stampede and if you are trying to keep up with the Joneses, you’ll be dealing with a financial hangover. If you must party with your friends, have your own backyard Stampede BBQ. Wear your hats, flip some burgers, and have a few drinks before taking transit to the grounds to catch a free concert on the Coke stage.

7. Eat lots of pancakes.
Okay, this one may only really be related to Stampede, but there is free breakfast everywhere during our ten days of western festivities. I am not too proud to stuff my face with free food at every available opportunity. Here is a website listing all of the Stampede breakfasts happening in Calgary. See you in the pancake line!

8. Rent out a spare room in your house.
If you have ever wanted to try offering your hospitality on Air B&B, doing so during festival season is a great opportunity to cash in on a temporary visitor boom in your city. You can rent out a room or your whole house if you decide to get out of town yourself!

9. Volunteer or get a temporary job for great perks.
Often event volunteers will get free entry to their events and could get additional perks like discounts on merchandise, food, and so on. A lot of places will also be looking to hire temporary staff to help with the rush brought on by events like Stampede. Check out opportunities in your city to volunteer your time (or get paid for it) and enjoy being a part of the action instead of just a spectator!

10. Don’t go.
Of course, another option is to just avoid the big, expensive events altogether. If you really don’t want to be lured into spending a bunch of money at an event like the Calgary Stampede, consider partaking in the free celebrations around your city instead. Whether it’s a local music festival instead of one in another province or a string of pancake breakfasts instead of going to the Stampede grounds, you can have a ton of fun this summer without parting with your hard-earned dough.

You can also save a few bucks by bringing your own snacks and a reusable water bottle to any big events. I’d rather save my pennies for mini donuts (yum!) than an overpriced bottle of water! Be aware that some festivals don’t allow outside food, so make sure you know what’s allowed before your bag of snacks gets chucked at the gate!

Have a great summer!

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Are Financial Advisors Worth It?

I met with a financial advisor a few years ago at the bank I had my student loan with (not RBC). It was not a pleasant experience. The advisor wasn’t really listening to me as a fresh-out-of-university kid with goals: pay off the loan, save up for a house. He had goals too: sell me bank products I didn’t need.

Understandably, I was a little bit hesitant to meet with another financial advisor. Then, the company I work for offered a free consultation with an independent group (i.e., not affiliated with a particular bank) so I decided to go for it.

What a difference!

It was a pleasant meeting and it was about me and my goals and my circumstances. I came prepared with budgets, printouts on my mortgage and my loan, my (small) investment portfolio, and other relevant information. And we spent an hour going over it, looking at interest rates, discussing how I should best allocate the funds from each paycheque, and what my priorities should be.

Sometimes we are too close to our own finances and our own ways of doing things. An outsider’s perspective can be really helpful. I learned a few things, but most of all, I also received validation that I am on the right track with my money. The biggest surprise to me was his thoughts on the double-up contributions that I make to my mortgage. “I am doing great things here!” I thought. “I am cutting 4 years off my mortgage by putting more money towards it every month, even though the interest rate is really low.” I thought for sure he’d suggest that I put this money towards my loan instead, but no: he thought I should invest it, and then use the returns to pay off the mortgage a few years down the road – something I had not even considered, but that makes a lot of sense.

Good advice is only good advice if it fits your situation. My previous experience with a financial advisor had been more about getting me to sign up for stuff than about helping me reach my goals. This time, I received an impartial view of my finances that made me consider options I hadn’t considered before. They seem obvious now that they have been pointed out to me. That alone was worth my time (especially since I wasn’t the one paying for the session).

HSBC did a study in 2011 that showed that people with solid financial plans saved over 250% more towards their retirement than those that didn’t. 250%! A financial advisor can help you shape this plan and make it work for you so you’re not flailing around helplessly wondering what to do with your money. You can read books, blogs, and news articles until the cows come home, but one hour with a financial advisor could help you nail down the best options for your savings and investments.

Financial advisors are not just for lottery winners and millionaires. They can be helpful for anyone with a financial goal by offering an outside view of your finances to help you to make sure you aren’t missing any opportunities for investment or savings. If Googling answers to your questions is making your head spin, a good financial advisor can answer your questions as they relate to your specific situation.

If your company is like mine and offers an hour with a financial advisor as a perk of being their desk-slave, then you would be silly not to jump on the opportunity to get some advice on your finances. Even without someone else paying for it, using a financial advisor seems to be well worth the investment if you can find the right one. Here is a good article with some tips on finding someone that suits your goals and risk tolerance, as well as red flags to watch out for when interviewing a financial advisor. It is important to make sure you are dealing with someone you are comfortable with, especially if you decide to invest through them, and not to feel pressured to purchase their services just because they answered your questions. Get all the information you need and make smart, informed decisions based on your money and your needs.

 

*I am not a financial advisor and I don’t play one on TV (even a financial calculator can’t help this mathematical bonehead with numbers). I had a good experience and received what I consider to be good advice from the financial advisor I met with this year. That is all. Carry on.

Why I Almost Switched Banks… and Then Didn’t

I have been an RBC customer since I was 12 years old. That’s more than half my life! I had one of those Leo Young Savers accounts, and in my little transaction book, I wrote that I was saving up for a horse.

Recently, RBC announced a lot of changes to their fee structure, despite a record profit in the last quarter. I was one of those raging customers that complained about their new pay-to-pay charges (e.g., for paying your mortgage). I don’t even know how those charges got approved in the first place as they are absolutely ridiculous, but that’s beside the point.

I had a meeting with another bank, gung-ho and fully prepared to do whatever it took to leave RBC. I had all the paperwork. I had gathered the necessary information. I was ready.

And then I cancelled the second meeting with the new bank and decided to stay with RBC.

I made this decision for a few reasons:

  1. RBC backtracked on their initial, stupid pay-to-pay charges, which were one of the things I took the most issue with.
  2. The information I had about my business banking account, from the mouth of an RBC rep over the phone, turned out to be incorrect. Based on the small amount of transactions I use per month for my business, the $6 small business account is actually my cheapest option at the moment. It’s even cheaper than the new bank’s $12 all-in account since I don’t need as many transactions as they offered each month.
  3. Their branches are more convenient for me than the new bank that was I going to switch to. I didn’t think this would be a big deal but the more I thought about it, the more I disliked the fact that there was not a local branch of the new bank near my house.
  4. The new bank (which is actually a credit union) does not offer no-fee money back credit cards or rewards cards.
  5. In most of my dealings with RBC, their customer service has been far better than other banks I have dealt with.

To make myself happy with what RBC now offers – and to avoid as many of their charges as possible – I had to change the way I spent and saved money.

  1. I downgraded both of our savings accounts (mine and a joint one with my husband). They are now Day to Day Savings accounts instead of High Interest e-Savings accounts. The e-Savings accounts now have a $5 fee each time money is moved out of them, including through online banking. No teller required, but that will still be $5 please. This may have been removed as part of RBC’s backtracking, but the last pamphlet I got included this fee. The Day to Day Savings allows one free transaction each month, and unlimited online access. We weren’t saving enough in these accounts to make use of the higher interest rate anyway – certainly not more than $5 a month!
  2. I am now spending on my credit card only. It is a free rewards card, so hopefully even the small purchases will add up to something decent by the end of the year. This year we used my points to book a rental car for an upcoming trip. The credit card gets paid off every month.
  3. Because of #2, I am going to downgrade my regular No Limit Banking account ($10.95 a month) to the lower use, 12-transactions-a-month Day to Day Banking ($4.00 a month). Credit card payments and online transactions to move money to other accounts are not counted in the 12 transactions.

It’s annoying to have to try to find ways around increasing fees, but in the end I decided that these are manageable changes for me and allow me to stay with a bank I have a good history with. I have always been pleased with RBC’s customer service and their branch locations are convenient.

It can seem like an easy choice to move banks based on charges. It is important, though, to weigh up more than just the money aspect when choosing – or staying with – a bank. My new credit union, though their fees were significantly lower, would have been least a 10 minute drive from my house. I would probably spend more on gas to get there each month than I would save. That’s not even accounting for my time, and that’s worth more than the minuscule savings.

If you are thinking of bailing on your bank because of increasing fees, consider how you may be able to make their services work for you instead. You may be able to modify your habits to avoid coughing up for access to your cash, and in doing so, staying with your current bank could save you more than moving. With a little bit of effort, I am actually coming out ahead in this situation. By downgrading my account level from No Limit Banking to Day to Day Banking, I will get the full amount of the monthly fee back as a rebate instead of just half ($4.00 on $4.00 instead of $5.00 on $10.95).

(I’m still on the fence about being an RBC customer because of the TFW issue, but that’s a story for another day.)

What changes can you make to to your accounts or spending habits to avoid banking fees?

My Two Cents

My interest in paying down debt, saving, investing, and other money-related topics has really taken off recently. Effectively managing money is something I’ve always been interested in. I was debt-free, minus a mortgage, until the middle of last year when I decided to expand my “side hustle”. Going back into the red was not a pleasant experience. I want that debt gone as fast as possible, so I have upped my saving and debt-abolishing game.

That’s where this blog comes in. I will share my research, interesting finds, my struggles and hopefully my victories, in an effort to keep myself accountable to my plan and pass on some inspiration and information.

Many fantastic money-managing blogs exist out there on the Internet. Most of my favourites are American, making their advice great but not always directly applicable to those of us in the Great White North. I want to start a blog for people like myself – specifically, young, entrepreneurial Canadians that need some help figuring out all of these “adult” things they don’t teach you in school (though they damn well should).

You and me – we can do this. Let’s get a head start on managing our money before we’re staring down 65 and wondering why we didn’t start this process sooner.