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February 2011

February 28, 2022

Dictators pay millions for private celeb concerts: report

On the day toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak had his known assets frozen, news also broke that Muammar al-Gaddafi, the embattled Libyan leader, was handing out cash to his people through the nation’s banks.

Istockphoto_13126643-rock-musician-and-crowd The lesson: there’s a lot to consider when talking money and the world’s political tyrants.

Here’s a new wrinkle, though. At the same time dictators are reviled for allegedly swiping dough from their countries, they’re also being outed for their lavish spending patterns. Like, say, $2 million for a private Beyonce concert.

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Is this the end for public service unions?

It's tough to be a union man in the U.S. these days. As unionized private-sector jobs continue to disappear, the burden of paying for the seemingly lavish benefits of public employees has fallen on a shrinking base of disgruntled taxpayers.

That’s why Wisconsin and several other cash-strapped states are in the midst of turmoil as their Republican governors attempt to rein in spending by checking the growth in public employees' benefits.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill, for instance, would make civil servants – excluding local police, state troopers and firefighters – pay substantially more for pensions and benefits, and would, since it hopes to subject salary increases for government workers to a state-wide referendum, likely cripple public service unions as a force in both collective bargaining and politics.

Under the bill, state agencies would also no longer deduct union dues from workers’ paycheques, forcing unions to collect them on their own. And the legislation would also require unions to hold recertification votes annually.

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February 25, 2022

London parlour: get your breast milk ice cream here!

Istockphoto_1502496-vanilla-cone-2 I feel like God is testing us right now.

On the same day the world was finally granted reprieve from Two and a Half Men, one of the biggest “Well, wait, that’s weird, isn’t it? No, it’s definitely weird” consumer stories has come out of the U.K.

A London dessert parlour announced it will begin serving ice cream made from breast milk today. Once again: a London dessert parlour announced it will begin serving ice cream made from breast milk today.

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February 24, 2022

Do Apple's in-app charges 'prey on children'?

God love my pops, but he’s not exactly Rembrandt on an iPad.

Istockphoto_5908146-deposit He bought one of the Apple tablets last year and, in between solitaire sessions in front of the TV at night, he pretty much resorts to mashing his fingers on the screen to operate the thing; aware but not totally conscious of what he’s pressing and when.

Though he’s not completely dreadful at using the iPad … um, how best to connect the dots here … it’s this same issue of “Well, I didn’t know what I pushed!” that’s at the centre of a new controversy in the States, where kids are unwittingly racking up huge charges through apps on iPhones, iPods and the like.

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Is employee theft on the rise?

Customer theft, including shoplifting and organized retail crime accounts for roughly 42.4% of shrink in most businesses, followed closely by employee theft at 35.3%, according to the most recent edition of the Global Retail Theft Barometer.

Theft Assuming you’ve given up on the first category, how do you handle less-than-honest coworkers? Say someone at the store is offering your employer’s immediate-family-only discount to just about everybody she meets. What should you do?

Talk to her directly and remind her of the rules; notify management anonymously or simply let it slide, since it’s really a victimless crime?

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February 23, 2022

Bookies take bets on which dictators will be ousted next

Let’s call one thing like it is: for most Canadians, we don’t know what to think about all this mess in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Istockphoto_5091092-flag-of-libya It’s not that we don’t care. Certainly, we’re Canucks, for crying out loud – we’re the most compassionate people on earth. It’s just that, for the most part, we don’t really know enough about the Mubaraks and the Gadaffis of the world to form a sound opinion.

Of course, since Egypt ousted its ruler earlier this month, that doesn’t mean we can’t bet on who will be next to go.

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Does turning down the furnace at night actually pay off?

Energy conservation is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for your pocket.

Therm For instance, “is it more energy-efficient to maintain your thermostat setting at a constant temperature 24/7 during the winter at, say, 20 degrees, or to lower it at night to 18 degrees when you go to bed, but then have to heat up the house each morning back to 20?” a puzzled reader asks the Globe and Mail’s popular “Collected Wisdom” column.

The answer is a definite yes, of course: Heating the house in the morning from 18 to 20 degrees takes the same amount of energy as was saved the previous evening by not having the furnace operating while the temperature slowly dropped. In other words, heating the house upon waking is a free ride.

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February 22, 2022

How will you manage an RRSP contribution this year?

Save for Lady Gaga and Charlie Sheen’s publicist, the most creative people on earth this stretch of the calendar may be Canadians at tax time.

Istockphoto_8595689-financial-belt-tightening Admit it, you or your accountant turn into a mix of David Blaine and Hosni Mubarak ahead of your annual filing, figuring how best to hide and manipulate your money to keep it from the CRA.

Yet when trying to whittle down that taxable income, Canucks appear to be struggling with that ever-important conundrum: how the hell can I actually max out my RRSP contribution this year?

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Travel alert: Avoid these common booking mistakes

University students across the land are on a reading break this week. But, for many families, the kids in big school don’t need a lot of care and feeding, travel-wise.

Travel In a few weeks though, the little kids get out – and then all hell breaks loose if you're looking to get away for a few days and not go bankrupt. 

The proliferation of hidden fees in recent years has made doing your pre-booking legwork more important than ever. Whether it's extra charges for checked baggage, overweight baggage, in-flight food, flying with a pet, or even carry-on bags, fees today can greatly inflate the cost of your ticket, often adding hundreds of dollars to a family trip. 

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February 21, 2022

You can have too much money in your RRSP

A few weeks ago, we published a lengthy article on why many Canadians should probably steer clear of RRSPS.

Rrsp If you've got a stack of high-interest credit card or auto debt, for instance, you're going to be much better off paying it down and deferring potential RRSP contributions until you work those loans off.

Even consumer loans at lower rates of interest can be troublesome and may be better eliminated before boosting your RRSP pool.

On the other hand, says Morningstar columnist Gail Bebee, if you’ve been contributing to RRSPs for a while, it may be time to slowdown or stop altogether.

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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...