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May 2011

March 27, 2021

Are tax discounters worth the money you pay?

Many Canadians look forward to a tax refund with eager anticipation. They consider it a tax-free windfall that they can spend without feeling guilty.

We’re so anxious to do so that close to 1 million of us choose to receive our tax refund on the spot, generally paying anywhere from 10 to 15 cents on the dollar for the privilege of having the money loaded on a debit card from places like H&R Block or Money Mart.

Tax discounters are allowed to charge no more than 15 per cent on the first $300 of the refund and five per cent of anything above that.

Most advisors decry the practice, arguing that an instant refund is a dumb way to pay to access your own money and that getting a refund in the first place means you've already provided the government with an interest-free loan.

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May 31, 2021

Cops -- overpaid or underpaid?

If you think cops are overpaid, don’t type “Canada,” “police” or “overtime” into your search engine’s news database today.

Istockphoto_14700004-police-badge Many headlines Tuesday detail just what certain police and security officers were paid for their work during last year’s G8/G20 summits, the much-ballyhooed political meetings that forked over an estimated total defence budget of near $1 billion.

Among that figure are some startling numbers, and certainly fuel to the fire of anyone residing in the “police are paid too much” spectrum. But, then, what is a cop really worth, anyway?

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Two important keys to retirement security

Are you worried what retirement is going to look like? Wondering if you'll be better off than your parents?

Ratio If you’re over age 50 and concerned about the future, consider making two changes that could significantly improve your odds of retiring, says Charles Farrell, author of Your Money Ratios: 8 Simple Tools for Financial Security.

If you combine working a little longer with some modest reductions in your retirement lifestyle, you can vastly improve your retirement picture, he suggests. 

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May 30, 2021

How much more are you spending on gas?

Last week, not that you needed us to tell you, MSN detailed just how much rising gas prices were sapping Canadian bank accounts.

Istockphoto_15142399-fuel-crisis By GasBuddy.com data, gasoline had jumped more than 30 cents per litre year-over-year since May, 2010 – a change that means, according to CIBC World Markets, gas now takes up more than five per cent of Canadians’ disposable income.

If we throw out 2008, when gas prices started high, shot sky-high and then bottomed out by year’s end, that CIBC number is an unprecedented figure that’s never been seen before in Canadian history.

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TripAdvisor's user-generated reviews now on Canadian site

Online travel bookings by Canadians are on the rise, driven largely the strong loonie.

Trip So, it’s not completely surprising to hear that Canada is one of the most successful local units for Expedia Worldwide, the world's biggest online travel company.

Transactions were up 30% overall last year, with gross bookings hitting a record high of $1.5 billion, the Toronto Sun reports.

Determined to hold on to its dominant position, Expedia, which recently announced plans to split its TripAdvisor unit into a separately traded company, has launched an updated TripAdvisor search engine for Canadians.

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May 27, 2021

Is your job making you fat?

Whenever you watch a movie set in the Great Depression – The Grapes of Wrath, Cinderella Man, whatever – you always get the same feeling when you see the few people fortunate enough to get a day’s work breaking their backs unloading a container ship or sitting at a sewing machine for 14 hours straight.

Istockphoto_4508257-measuring-the-beerbelly “Man, we don’t do anything  anymore!”

Indeed, for anyone to suggest Canadians work, physically speaking, more than they did decades ago would be Steven Tyler-level crazy. That’s a testament to innovation – for better or worse, advanced machinery have taken over much of business’ need for back-breaking labour – but have such workplace modernizations directly led to us getting fatter and fatter?

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May 26, 2021

Why the 'Pay What You Can' model works

On the surface, “pay what you can” business models are a direct affront to capitalism, something that’d never be lectured at the Kevin O’Leary School of Business.

Istockphoto_4645476-filling-the-coin-jar Yet there appears to be a growing sample that shows foregoing direct profits may hold long-term benefits under the PWYC model, which allows customers to feel free to fork over what they feel is right for a product or service, higher or lower than the suggested retail price.

According to an executive of Panera Bread, the North American bakery-café chain that has run the PWYC campaign at three of its 1,500-odd locations for the past year, the promotion works, and many times consumers actually pay more than what they should.

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May 25, 2021

Are books dead, dying or neither?

When discussing the stubborn demise of newspapers, the same argument is always brought to me.

1335451_stack_of_books After a certain generation passes – the Baby Boomers, the over-40 crowd – the era of waking up in the morning, grabbing a coffee and paper will be gone. Anyone younger than that hasn’t been conditioned to read the physical newspaper; they don’t seek that tactile feedback each day that was common to your fathers and mine.

In theory, the same thinking goes for books, which appear headed for the same fate thanks to iPads and e-readers. But as newspapers have shown resilience, are books dead just yet?

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Single moms better off in Canada, at least when it comes to taxes

Compared to most developed countries, Canada has a relatively low tax and social security burden on labour income, according to recent OECD figures.

The average tax wedge, which is calculated by adding income taxes to employee and employer social security contributions and deducting cash transfers as a percentage of total labour costs, is lower than the OECD average for every family type, says the organization’s most recent Taxing Wages Report.

What’s more, the difference between Canada’s tax wedge and the OECD average has increased in the past 11 years, according to the report.

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May 24, 2021

Would women drink more beer if the bottle looked different?

The sky is blue. Condoms can’t contain the Terminator. Canadians drink beer.

Facts are facts. And, on the day after a long weekend, that third one’s probably ringing especially true for Canucks that dragged themselves into work this morning.

But while beer companies know men, May 2-4 or not, will turn to beer, they can’t be sure women will with any kind of regularity. So, they design bottles aimed directly to get ladies on the lager.

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Time to increase duty-free limits for cross-border shoppers ?

Looking to take free trade right to your door step, the United States has asked Canada to raise its duty-free limits for day trips across the border, perhaps to as much as $1,000.  

Flag Americans can buy and bring back $200 worth of Canadian goods in the first two days before they have to settle up with U.S. customs. Over two days, the exemption is $800.

Conversely, after one day, our “exemption” at the border is a mere $50; between two and seven days, you can bring back $400 worth of goods and, after one week, it’s a $750 exemption on most goods.

Earlier this year, former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson proposed that the government increase these exemptions tenfold: raising the one-day allowance from $50 to $500 per person; the three-day allowance from $250 to $2,500; that longer-stay allowance from $750 to $7,500.

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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...