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December 2011

December 20, 2021

When it comes to risk, things aren't always as bad as they seem

The world sure looks scary. The television bombards you with so many images of European economic chaos, disaster and mishap that you hardly even want to come out of your cave.

But things may not be that bad, says former journalist David Ropeik in his recent book How Risky is it, Really?

The way we perceive danger is driven far more by rapid, emotional responses than by any reasoned calculation of actual risk, he maintains, pointing to the brain’s risk assessment system and how it can result in gaps between perception and fact.

Basically, we're wired to act now, think later. Our subconscious mind and instincts shape our basic attitudes and decisions long before you have all the facts at hand, forming a “perception gap” between facts and fear.

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Canadians to save more in 2012: report

At this point after the recession, almost two-and-a-half years now, you’d think Canadian consumers would begin to slip.

Stock-photo-17554985-piggy-bankAfter being slammed by the downturn, said by many to have been the result of personal and Wall Street misspending, we naturally changed in the years after, tightening our belts and tightening our purse strings.

Yet that’s all fine and good for appearance’s sake. By now, at the end of 2011, a time when credit card use is climbing back up, we’d surely regress gradually to the mean, right? Certainly, we would return to spending like Venetian tourists, return to succumbing to impulse …

… but, wait, not only have we not slumped in our fiscal responsibility, perhaps we’re improving still.

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December 19, 2021

Holiday gifts that cost to receive

The worst gifter, surely, is the gifter that thinks you need what they love.

Stock-photo-17648707-gold-giftWhich is to say, the gifter that reasons, “Omigod, I read Breaking Dawn  in a weekend! I couldn’t put it down! You’ll love it!”

Of course, most times this happens, you don’t want what you’re getting, rolling your eyes later but smiling and nodding to the holidays’ worst gifter.

Though, if there were a close relative to the holidays’ worst gifter, who would it be? Maybe … the person that gives gifts that cost you money to receive?

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Do you know what your life expectancy is?

Thanks to healthier lifestyles and breakthroughs in medical technology, life expectancy on this continent  has increased significantly during the past half-century.

AdWhile that's got to be good news, knowing that that you can expect to live longer in retirement also means your investment portfolio may need to last for 30 years or more.

Here, for instance, is the likelihood of 65-year-olds living to certain ages, according to figures from the Society of Actuaries:

Male. A 65-year-old man has roughly a 41% chance of living to age 85 and a 20% chance of living to age 90.  

Female. A 65-year-old woman has about a 53% chance of living to age 85 and a 32% chance of living to age 90.
Couple. If the man and woman are married, the chance that at least one of them will live to any given age is increased. In fact, there's a 72% chance that one of them will live to age 85 and a 45% chance that one will live to age 90. 

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December 16, 2021

Ottawa forces Cdn. airlines to advertise all-in prices

This morning, a recent headline got me browsing Air Canada’s website.

Stock-photo-431394-up-up-and-awayFirst, what I found. Out of curiousity, I checked up a Toronto-Honolulu return flight. We reached nine degrees or so here in Toronto yesterday, but come on. Hawaii in winter > Canada in winter.

The airline quoted me $499 there, via Montreal and  Vancouver, and $349 home, via Calgary. About $850 to Hawaii: cool!

Of course, then I went to the checkout, and all of a sudden taxes, fees, charges and surcharges brought me up over a thousand bucks. A lousy surprise, right? Almost … deceitful. Well, no more, says the federal government.

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December 15, 2021

Not even burglars want a BlackBerry these days

In full, 100 per cent disclosure, this is not the space to find even, neutral RIM coverage.

Stock-photo-16188428-criminal-raises-crowbarWe’ve often poked fun at the BlackBerry maker, and, really, it’s not our fault. What else are we left to do when tales arrive of PlayBook giveaways or drunk Research In Motion execs grounding planes bound for Beijing?

Yet less than a week after the Globe and Mail counted down ten reasons it can’t get any worse for RIM, chances are the paper didn’t expect this.

According to NBC New York, not even crooks will take a BlackBerry these days.

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Would you consider being a human guinea pig?

Live near a hospital or university? Have you ever thought of signing up for an experiment or research study?

AdThere are many good reasons to volunteer to participate in such experiments: the advancement of science, help with personal medical issues, the opportunity to help future generations and, it seems, the chance to pick up a bit of cash.

Often, research facilities will post studies where participants can earn anywhere from $25 to $250, more if the trial is ongoing. At the very least, sponsors will cover travel and parking and recruiters often pay for referrals, generally in the form of a gift card.

And there's no shortage of activity, in both Toronto and Montreal, at least. And recruiters seem to track the entire country.

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December 14, 2021

The move to ban all in-car cell phone use

How long did it take smoking to become taboo?

Stock-photo-13111531-dangerous-distracted-driver-talking-on-phone-doesn-t-see-childThree years? Five? Back in 2003, when it was first outlawed in Canadian restaurants and public spaces, it must’ve seemed like a Herculean effort to turn society against the habit.

Yet here we are, in 2011, and smoking’s slowly and surely become an act of seclusion; a nasty exercise people now, where they might not have even a half-decade ago, crinkle their noses and turn the other way.

The point? Even something as culturally entrenched as smoking can be turned upon. And take a look around, there’s a similar movement happening now: the case against cell phone use by drivers.

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Payday lenders gear up for busy holiday season

Retailers are reporting mixed results leading in to the final days of Christmas shopping, but there's still one sector that is expecting to do big business this month: payday lenders who offer low-dollar, short-term, high-interest loans to the most vulnerable consumers.

Payday loans are designed to tide borrowers over until their next pay cheque. The amount you can borrow is usually limited to 50 per cent of net pay, at interest rates that make credit cards look like a real bargain.

These loans then trap borrowers in a cycle of mounting debt. Charges escalate when the borrower is unable to repay the loan at the end of the month, or can repay but immediately needs to borrow the same amount again.

Some consumer advocates even think they payday lenders should be legislated right out of business. But there are ways to protect yourself. As a consumer, you have rights, for instance.

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December 13, 2021

One per cent not as wealthy as they once were: report

Pity the one per cent.

Indeed, it hasn’t been the kindest of stretches for the super-rich, what with their wardrobe downsizing and unshowered protestors waiting at the door of their downtown offices.

It’s been tough, sure, and with reports that income inequality keeps growing, the wealthy keep getting less popular.

But hold on a second. Hold on just a second!  By numbers from a new report, the one per cent had just as rough a downturn as you or I did.

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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...