November 27, 2021

Your mother was right: Steer clear of dirty money

"Don't put that money in your mouth! You never know where it's been!"

While your mother was likely more concerned about germs on coins, she might have been on to something.

A study published by Swiss researchers a couple of years ago suggested that an infectious virus can survive for three days on bank notes. Sounds like a great argument for using debit cards, particularly when you consider that dingy dollars might affect your behaviour as well.

In fact, handling dollar bills that aren’t crisp and clean could actually tilt you towards the dark side, explains Kevin Lewis in the Boston Globe.

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June 05, 2021

Cost of an annual physical more than the system can bear?

When was the last time you had a checkup? A year ago? Two?

With the cost of medical bills rising all the time, some of us may need to rethink that annual physical exam, say health-care critics.

Those annual checkups are too often a formality that siphons time and money from the healthcare system without offering definitive improvements for patients in return, they maintain.

This may be particularly when you consider that the screening tests that routinely accompany them may not be of great use, and can lead to unneeded procedures.

For instance, another new report has labelled the PSA blood test, which is generally not covered by OHIP and other provincial plans, as a marginal prostate cancer screening tool.

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June 04, 2021

Do you ever find yourself dreaming about money?

Does every dream mean something?

Only if you ask, according to Dr. Michael Lennox, a psychologist and author of the book "Dream Sight: A Dictionary and Guide for Interpreting Any Dream."

He feels that there are different steps, or levels, of working with a dream, each one slightly more beneficial than the one that precedes it. Rather than try to analyze every  night time thought, he prefers the term interpretation.

All of which means that:

  1. Remembering a dream brings it into consciousness, thereby elevating the value it can offer in the search for personal understanding.
  2. Thinking about and processing the information it presents by ruminating on your dream will deepen the experience.
  3. Writing your dream down will reinforce the impact of your effort and lock the unconscious expression in your conscious mind.
  4. Discussing it with another person is going one step further, as an objective viewpoint is always going to help you see something that you would be unable to see on your own.
  5. Responding to your dream with a creative endeavor, such as drawing or writing a poem takes this to its highest level. The unconscious mind expresses itself through creative means and this kind of dream work is the most powerful there is.

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May 07, 2021

How much does your family spend in a month?

The average Canadian makes about $45,000 a year and, judging from all the talk of bulging debt loads, spends about 15 to 20% more than that. But where does it all go?  

Last month, The Atlantic took a look at how Americans earn and spend money, noting that while housing costs have gone through the roof, the amount of money most people spend on food has dropped sharply over the years, even when you include eating out.

"Across the economy we can see that items that require fewer and fewer American workers per completion (think: socks) get cheaper, while services that can't find similar ways to replace American workers (think: health care, education, government) don't get cheaper at all. In fact, they often get more expensive."

Here's a parallel Canadian graphic using some StatsCan numbers.

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March 21, 2022

Can supporting your favourite charity actually make you healthier?

We’ve all heard the expression, “give ’til it hurts.” Now, some researchers are talking about “give ‘til it heals.” Can giving money to charity improve your health and physical well-being, too?

Yes, according to the Institute of Noetic Sciences  which recently highlighted some research that suggests that giving is good for you – for your health, your happiness and your sense of purpose.

The IONS report identifies three aspects of gifting – altruism, interconnectedness and compassion – that have been positively linked to physical health by various researchers.

One study found that a correlation exists between the degree of generosity and patients’ descriptions of better health, more positive emotional well-being, higher self-esteem, and a sense of personal control in their lives.

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January 25, 2022

Why it's so tough to be a decent investor

How investors go about making decisions when the going gets rough can have long-lasting implications, especially with bias and emotion working overtime.

The field of behavioural finance has shown that most of us can’t be counted on to take the most logical, rational route when it comes to money.

We’re overconfident and short-sighted. We tend to overreact to information, sell too soon and hold on to losers too long. The list goes on and on.

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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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December 15, 2021

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?

There 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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November 30, 2021

Is working out at the 'brain gym' really worthwhile?

After forgetting his PIN number twice in the same week one of my friends has decided his brain is just a bit out of shape.

His solution? Spending several hours on Lumosity, a brain-training program that includes close to 40 games and exercises aimed at sharpening memory skills, improving concentration and thinking faster.

And he's not alone, it seems. Some 14 million people around the world either subscribe to the company's website or have downloaded one of its iPhone apps.

Just as you can tone up your body by lifting weights, the types of games that Lumosity and its competitors like MindSparke and Posit offer are supposed to make your brain stronger and help it work more efficiently. That’s key for all those people who show signs of aging or memory loss.

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November 10, 2021

How to write a persuasive message

Suppose you must write a message that you want the recipients to believe. Of course, your message will be true, but that is not necessarily enough for people to believe that it is true. It is entirely legitimate for you to enlist cognitive ease to work in your favour, and studies of truth illusions provide specific suggestions that may help you achieve this goal.

The general principle is that anything you can do to reduce cognitive strain will help, so you should first maximize legibility. Compare these two statements:
Adolf Hitler was born in 1892.
Adolf Hitler was born in 1887.

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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...