Weather Permitting: 12 Financial Tips to Help You Save and Prepare For Turbulent Times

!2 Money Tips

From apps to help you save to advice on maximizing your tax return, these financial tips will help you battle inflation and save for a rainy day. Illustrations: Antony Hare

Economists cite diverse factors – geopolitical conflicts, supply chain issues, interest rate fluctuations, government stimulus or labour market challenges – to explain today’s soaring prices. These formidable forces exist beyond our control, leaving us feeling bewildered and powerless. However, amid this uncertainty, focusing on small actions can yield significant results. These 12 tips can help you regain financial footing, initiate savings and face turbulent times with calm and confidence. You might say that it’s cheaper by the dozen. 

 

1. Pump Up The Savings

 

Gas prices are volatile: demand, inventory, weather events and unpredictable global factors can affect them from one day to the next. Remember 2022? Drivers  shelled out more than $2 a litre for regular gas at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While prices have stabilized ($1.44 in January 2024) they are still not below pre-pandemic levels, when regular gas cost as little as $1.12 a litre. Here are a few reliable ways to get cheaper fuel.

Buy a membership

Costco famously offers members fuel that’s cheaper than the average station. Paying with a CIBC Costco Mastercard gives you three per cent cash back. The CAA gives members three cents off a litre at Shell stations, too.

Join a loyalty program 

Gas stations like Petro-Canada and Shell offer fuel savings with rewards programs. Ten thousand Petro-Points saves you five cents per 200 litres, while Shell Go+ earns you Air Miles for every 10 litres of gas.

Use the right credit card 

Credit cards can offer great cashback rates and rewards for gas purchases. The best ones include the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite, where you get three per cent cashback on gas purchases, and the American Express Cobalt, where you earn two points for every dollar spent on gas.

Download price apps 

Waze, CAA’s mobile app, GasBuddy and Gas Guru – to name a few – will show you how much fuel costs at stations near you.

 

2. Lost and Found Money

 

We’ve all done it: changed banks and never got around to closing an account, or even forgot where we stashed cash. When accounts are inactive for 10 years or more, the financial institution transfers the funds to the Bank of Canada’s unclaimed property office (UPO) after it tries to get in touch with the account owner. The bank is holding $1.1 billion in more than 2.5 million accounts as of 2023, with one unclaimed account from the 1850s. 

“The [UPO] requires claimants to submit supporting legal documents that provide proof of ownership and/or proof of entitlement to the property they are claiming,” says Rebecca Spence, senior media relations specialist at the Bank of Canada, in an email. 

The bank has checklists that ensure payments go to the right owner. If it’s a complex claim, there could be a multi-step approval process, where claimants have to submit original copies by mail, and it is subject to multi-level peer reviews.

The bank will hold accounts with less than $1,000 for 30 years and accounts with more than that for 100 years. It also holds certified cheques, official cheques and traveller’s cheques; bank drafts, money orders and deposit receipts; positive credit card balances; term deposits; and GICs.

If you think you’ve forgotten assets, you can search the federal database at unclaimedproperties.bankofcanada.ca.

“The average processing time for an unclaimed bank balance can be 120 days, depending on the time of year, the complexity of the claim and the degree to which the claim package has been properly and fully completed by the claimant,” says Spence. The same timeline applies to unclaimed Canada Savings Bonds, Canada Premium Bonds, RRSPs and RRIFs. You can also search provincial databases in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and New Brunswick. –Renée Sylvestre-Williams

Time it right

Gas tends to be cheapest on the weekends and after 6 p.m., both weekends and weekdays, says gas price analyst Dan McTeague of online site gaswizard.ca, which gives price predictions across Canada. Gas stations often reduce the litre price by up to six cents then. Most expensive time: on weekday mornings. —Alyanna Denise Chua

 

3. The TSFA Trap

!2 Money Tips
Illustration: Antony Hare

 

Tax free Savings Accounts (TFSA) are a popular investment and savings tool. Unlike an RRSP, the investments (including stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds and more) you deposit into a TFSA are not tax-deductible, but the capital gains are tax-exempt for as long as you hold them in the account.

Some hapless investors have discovered TFSA’s dark side. The CRA places a limit on how much you can deposit annually ($7,000 for 2024), and people unintentionally run afoul of this limit. If they do, the CRA dings them at a rate of one per cent per month on their overinvestment, so the amount owed can build up.

“The number one problem,” says Marilyn Croteau, a partner with the Kingston, Ont., office of MNP (a national accounting, tax and business-consulting firm), “is that people are not paying attention to the allowable contribution room.” If  you deposited $5,000 in 2023 and then withdrew the same amount, you might assume that space remained available that year. It didn’t. You’ll be dinged if you made an additional deposit. Worse, the space shown as available for you on the CRA website may be a few months out of date. “It kind of behooves you to keep your own records,” says Croteau. Note the CRA limit, but keep track of your contributions and withdrawals. —Ian Coutts

 

4. Flight Compensation

 

For all the benefits of travel, we inevitably encounter hurdles like lost or damaged bags, getting bumped off an overbooked plane, delayed flights – or worse – a cancellation. 

The federal Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR) say airlines have a legal obligation to compensate you if a flight is delayed beyond three hours – but only if it was within the carrier’s control. If your bags are lost or damaged, or if you were bumped, there are different rules for compensation, also covered by the APPR.

You can file a claim through an airline’s online portal, and if that is denied, you can take your case to the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA), which acts as a regulator and tribunal. But, according Gabor Lukacs, president of nonprofit Air Passenger Rights, the CTA has a backlog of about 65,000 cases, so it will take about two years before they get to yours.  

Lukacs notes recent amendments to the Canada Transportation Act make it easier for airlines to contest CTA decisions. That’s what happened to Andrew and Anna Dyczkowski, a B.C. couple who were awarded $1,000 each by the CTA for a 2020 flight they say was delayed 24 hours. Now Air Canada is taking the case to the Federal Court, and they’re worried they may lose the $2,000 and be on the hook for legal costs. 

Instead, Lukacs recommends suing the airline in small claims court, where most people represent themselves without a lawyer, and a judge decides civil claims worth $35,000 or less. He says you will get a fairer hearing in small claims court than with the CTA, which generally sides with the airlines. 

It worked for Terry and Vicki Lynn Black, a Nova Scotia couple who recently received $1,583.70 after Air Canada denied their 2022 delayed-flight claim.

Lukacs’ ultimate advice for getting your money back is to know your passenger rights, and to use CanLii, an online information tool he calls “Google for law,” to review the APPR and past cases. “Knowledge is power,” he says. 
—Ayesha Habib

 

5. Budget-Friendly Bites

 

Supermarket sticker shock won’t vanish soon. According to Canada’s Food Price Report, prices for perishable categories like baked goods, meats and vegetables could jump by seven per cent this year. Luckily there are free smartphone apps offering big savings on soon-to-expire or surplus foods, with no membership fee required. Download an app, set up your payment info and start shopping. To collect the haul, show the digital receipt in-store. A few clicks can help reduce food waste, while saving customers hundreds of dollars or more a year. Bon appétit!

Flashfood Savings: Up to 50% off 

Flashfood fridges are common sights at Loblaw-owned stores – which includes No Frills, Independent grocers and Superstores – across Canada. Even though you can find deals on the sales floor, Flashfood bargains are only available for app users. The Toronto-based mobile marketplace, launched by entrepreneur Josh Domingues in 2016 to divert food destined for the dump to dinner tables, has daily deals that include perishable items like baked goods, dairy, meat and produce.

FoodHero Savings: 25% to 60% off 

FoodHero was started in 2019 by Jonathan Defoy, a Quebec entrepreneur eager to keep surplus groceries out of landfills. In Quebec and New Brunswick, FoodHero offers grocery discounts at participating Metro stores and Sobeys-owned brands like IGA and Rachelle-Béry health food stores. Users can track their spending data on their purchases – including how much cash and CO2 emissions they save buying rescued food.

Too Good to Go Savings: 66% off 

Participating businesses vary, and in the Greater Toronto Area, range from grocery stores like Longos and Pusateri’s to local bakeries, hotels and restaurants like Eataly. Too Good To Go, which originated in Denmark, groups products in “surprise bags.” Customers know the bag’s category (for example, prepared foods), but not the exact contents. In October 2023, more than 200 Tim Hortons locations joined the app as part of a national rollout.  —Rob Csernyik

 

6. Virtual Savings

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Illustration: Antony Hare

 

Canadians love convenience when it comes to banking. In a 2022 survey, the Canadian Bankers Association found eight out of 10 Canadians use websites and apps to do most of their banking transactions, and nearly half said it was their most common banking method. 

As brick-and-mortar branches and services disappear, virtual banks with quirky names like Tangerine, Neo Financial, Simplii Financial, Oaken, EQ and KOHO are gaining popularity. You might choose one over another because of great rates, or because its digital platform is easier to use.

“One good thing is they may offer better interest rates than traditional banks, including higher rates on deposits and lower rates for borrowing,” says Jason Heath, a certified financial planner and managing director of Objective Financial Partners in Markham, Ont. “Their overhead costs may be lower operating online primarily or exclusively and that can get passed along to customers by way of better rates.”

Interest rates on savings accounts can be one or two percentage points higher than traditional banks, and almost all offer even higher promotional rates for signing up, for example. Transaction fees for sending or receiving bank transfers are often cheaper. 

The downside is many don’t offer a full range of credit cards and there is no face-to-face customer service, so if you have questions, you may have to deal with a ChatBot or wait (and wait and wait) for a human.  RSW

 

7. Max Your Tax Return

 

Guide dogs, wheelchairs and white canes are visible signs someone is differently abled, but you may not know the underutilized federal Disability Tax Credit (DTC) is available to those with invisible ailments like depression, autism and dementia. 

You may be able to claim the DTC amount of $9,428 on line 31600 of your 2023 tax return “if you have a severe and prolonged impairment of a physical or mental function,” says Gerry Vittoratos, a Montreal-based expert for the tax preparation software company UFILE. Your condition – whether it’s vision loss, Type 1 diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few – must cause a “marked restriction” on your everyday activities, which include walking, hearing, vision or dressing, for example. 

So why do so many older Canadians with disabilities pass on this golden opportunity to reduce their tax bill? It’s likely due to the onerous application process. In order to qualify for the Disability Tax Credit certificate, you must fill out a 16-page form that includes a comprehensive report from your doctor (who invariably charges for the service). Then, the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) might take up to two months to determine your eligibility. “It can be a hurdle,” concedes Vittoratos. 

The beauty of the DTC is that you can claim it retroactively. If the CRA deems you eligible, you can file an adjustment to your past tax returns for as long as you’ve suffered from the disability – up to 10 years back. So, if you’ve had tax owing at any point in the last decade, the government will pay you the DTC refund in one lump sum, which, depending on your tax situation, could be worth as much as $1,500 to $2,500 per year of eligibility. All of a sudden, this overlooked tax credit becomes an unexpected windfall. For a complete explanation of how to apply, visit canada.ca/en/revenue-agency.html. —Peter Muggeridge

 

8. See Hear

!2 Money Tips
Illustration: Antony Hare

 

If you love film but your budget doesn’t allow for movie tickets or all those streaming subscriptions, look no further than your library card. Municipal libraries, which use apps like OverDrive and Libby for free ebook and audiobook loans, offer a portal to more free entertainment. The most widely adopted film and TV streaming platforms are Kanopy and Hoopla, which each have a short digital video loan period (usually about three days) and a set number of titles a patron can borrow per month, although it varies by institution.

Both offer a rotating array of new and backlist titles and feature well-curated thematic lists. Hoopla is the crowd-pleaser, with mainstream Hollywood fare, plus a download option so you can watch offline. Kanopy tends toward classic, documentary, indie art-house and international films – for example, it boasts selections from acclaimed distributors like Janus Films, Kino Lorber and The Criterion Collection. —Nathalie Atkinson

 

9. Freebie Alert

 

We are living in a subscription age, where movie, music and television services are vying for our eyes and ears – not to mention our wallets. To keep costs down, it’s worth taking advantage of the many free trials and deals out there, from three months of Apple TV+  with the purchase of a new smart television to scoring coupons for movies and popcorn. Here are a few options to try.

How do you like them apples?

With the purchase of a new iPhone, AirPods, Beats or HomePod, new subscribers get six months of Apple Music (regular price is $10.99/month) for free – although if you caught the Super Bowl halftime show, you may have already taken advantage of a similar deal offered after Usher’s performance. Meanwhile, a new iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV currently comes with a three-month trial (or subscription extension) for Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News and/or Apple Fitness+ (depending on the product purchased). If a bigger screen is more your thing, new LG TVs come with three months of Apple TV+. Just open the Apple app on the menu screen and start streaming.

Door to door

Amazon shoppers are regularly offered a free one-month Prime trial (regular price $9.99/month or $99/year) while making orders on the site. The benefits are tempting: free shipping and often same-day delivery, and unlimited access to Prime Video, Amazon Music and Prime Reading. Now, there’s an added perk: new and current Prime members can take advantage of a one-year DashPass subscription, which includes unlimited DoorDash deliveries from thousands of restaurants, with no delivery fee over the minimum subtotal; five per cent DoorDash credits back on pickup orders; 50 per cent off your next three orders over $15; and more.

That’s the ticket

While we can’t help you get Taylor Swift tix, we can point you in the direction of the Ticket Deals page on the broker’s site, Ticketmaster.ca, where you can get 50 per cent off some Canadian concerts and sporting events, as well as four-for-the-price-of-three ticket packages. After you’ve made your purchase, watch for special pop-up offers, like free trial subscriptions to SiriusXM.

Tried, tested and true

If you’ve got a little extra time on your hands, Home Tester Club Canada (formerly Brand Power) is currently offering Canadians free tech items in exchange for short reviews. Recent products have included microSD
memory cards, electric toothbrushes and coffee machines. 

Screen saver

A couple of times a year (often around holidays), Cineplex offers Scene+ members a bundle of savings. Every $50 gift card purchase comes with a coupon book featuring a free movie ticket; two regular popcorns; buy-one-get-one tickets; VIP screening upgrades; and more. Sign up for the free membership to receive emails about this and other deals.  —Marc Saltzman

 

10. House Money

 

There’s a new way to get equity out of your house. The Home Equity Sharing Agreement (HESA), which was introduced by Toronto fintech company Clay Financial earlier this year, lets you access home equity today without having to pay anything back until you sell your home. There are no monthly payments and no interest (unlike home equity loans, lines of credit and cash-out refinancing), and the funds you get through a HESA transaction are not considered income, so it is tax-free. 

Homeowners can withdraw up to 17.5 per cent of the value of their house, to a maximum of $500,000. For example, if your home is worth $1 million, you’d be able to withdraw up to $175,000. (You’d only hit the maximum if your home is worth more than $2.8 million.) From there, the HESA is fully reversible: if you come into some cash, you can buy back Clay’s portion any time after five years. Otherwise, you will settle up with the company once you sell your house. In both cases, your repayment amount will be adjusted to reflect the appreciation or depreciation of your home.

The HESA can help seniors who are house rich and cash poor, and want to stay where they are rather than sell to free up cash. Another added bonus for retirees is that you don’t need to be earning income to quality. That said, the downside is you can’t borrow as much money against your home as you can with a reverse mortgage. But if access to a little less than a quarter of your house’s equity will do, the HESA could be a great option. —Sean Cooper

 

11. Wake Up To Sleeping Money

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Illustration: Antony Hare

 

Here’s a little-known fact about some of Canada’s travel reward credit cards: You can use your points not only for flights, hotels and restaurants, but also for financial investments. CIBC Aventura, RBC Avion, NBC À la carte, BMO Rewards or Desjardins BONUSDOLLARS all offer cardholders the option of cashing in points for RRSP contributions or mortgage payments. For example, you can redeem 100,000 Aventura points for $1,000 in travel or $833 in financial products. On the surface, the travel redemption is a better value, but consider the long-term gain: If your current mortgage rate is five per cent, and you use points to pay it down, the interest you save will be greater than the travel perk. Alternatively, if you use points to invest in your RRSP, the contribution could result in a break on your income taxes. Plus, once invested, that money keeps growing until you draw it out. —Barry Choi

 

12. Shop The Sales

 

When it comes to scoring a deal, it’s worth a trip to a bricks-and-mortar store to examine the stitches on a shoe, feel the fabric and try on the merch. Go with a trusted friend who can help choose a bargain with the perfect fit rather than an impulse buy that will gather dust in the closet. Here’s how to get the most out of your hard-earned cash when you’re on the hunt for a deal: 

1. Factory Settings

Not everything is made off shore, and if you go straight to the source, prices are low because there’s no retail markup or distribution costs and they’re selling overstock, last season’s styles or items with minor design variations.

Stanfield’s Factory Outlet Store, Truro, N.S.: Stock up on tighty-whities, tees, hoodies, pyjamas and, of course, long johns.

Portolano Outlet Store, Prescott, Ont.: It’s good for classic leather gloves, chic cashmere shawls and knitted hats.

Canada West Boots Factory Outlet and Tack Store, Winnipeg, Man.: Find the perfect pair of cowboy boots, buy a horse blanket or grab a belt for those Wranglers.

2. Pop-up Sales

Throughout the year, brands and retailers will take over a warehouse for a few days to sell off overstock. Sign up to the mailing list at styledemocracy.com, which manages warehouse events across Canada, for sales from Drake’s OVO, Puma, Knix and Tiger of Sweden.

3. In the Back

Mall shops like Banana Republic and Gap usually have a small area in the back with marked-down merchandise. Sizes may be limited, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find a rock-bottom bargain.

4. Luxury Labels for Less

When you want to head to an outlet mall, check the website’s store directory, a clear indicator of the luxe factor. Toronto Premium Outlets in Halton Hills, Ont., is home to Armani, Gucci, YSL, Balenciaga and Burberry stores, while the Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport offers more than 100 brands, including Versace, Jimmy Choo and Tory Burch. —Derick Chetty

A version of this article appeared in the April/May 2024 issue with the headline “Weather Permitting,” p. 57.