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15 ways to save money on just about everything

Today's Parent | posted Tuesday, Aug 11th, 2015

Cassie Howard, the mastermind behind one of Canada’s top frugal-living websites, MrsJanuary.com, wasn’t alwaysmoney savvy. In 2006 she was actually drowning in credit card bills.

“I was 18 years old and in terrible debt and decided to start couponing—and blogging to share my money-saving experiences,” says Howard, a Vaughan, Ont., mom of two. “It wasn’t until after eliminating my debt that I realized I actually enjoyed saving money.”

Today she has a full-time gig blogging about deals and smart spending tricks, making her money through advertisements on her site and by writing sponsored posts. Over the past eight years, Howard and her husband have purchased a house, a new vehicle and enjoy annual family vacations.

“A lot of people think being frugal means you don’t spend money, but it’s about being wise with your money and using your resources to get the most bang for your buck,” says Howard.

Couponing and price matching at the grocery store are nothing new, but there are many lesser-known strategies to help trim the fat from your family’s budget.

1. Pay attention to sale cycles
Knowing when things go on sale over the course of the year will help you stock up when items are at their lowest prices. You just need to be aware of sale cycles. Bedding and linens typically go on sale in January. Find the best deals on frozen food in March and on cleaning supplies, paint and cookware in April. Pick up discounted party supplies and bottled water in May and craft supplies in July. August is known to see sales on large appliances, while October features deals on denim, toys and games. (For a detailed list, visit MrsJanuary.com.) And if you’re a frequent Amazon.cashopper, free price-watching sites like Camelcamelcamel will alert you to Amazon’s price drops via email or Twitter.

2. Create a stockpile, but don’t get crazy
You probably don’t need 50 bottles of laundry detergent, but always having a backup on hand will save you from dashing to the store for a full-price replacement when you run out. As you notice sales, replenish your stock.

3. DIY cleaners
Homemade detergents and cleaning products don’t contain harsh chemicals and are much more cost effective. Dartmouth, NS, resident Kelly Warren makes her own cleansers and detergents. “Vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, Borax and Castile soap are a lot cheaper than store-bought items and clean just as well,” she says.

4. Use cash-back services
Cash-back incentives are a great way to earn money on things you would buy anyway. “Checkout 51” is a Canadian app that issues rebates. Each week, the app sends out new offers and, if you buy those items, credits your account when you submit photos of your receipts. For example, an offer might be to save 50 cents on tomatoes, or $2 on two boxes of cereal. Once you’ve earned $20 in rebates, a cheque will be issued to the address you registered.

If online shopping is more your bag, Ebates.ca is your golden ticket. After creating a free account, visit Ebates and type in the online store where you’d like to shop. You’ll then be redirected and shop as usual, but you’ll earn a percentage of your purchase back. It’s an easy way to line your pocket and cheques are mailed out every three months.

Sign up for newsletters from your favourite sites to receive promo codes and deals. But beware; it’s a slippery slope when discount offers bombard your inbox. Stay strong, and only buy what you really need.

5. Get free stuff
It’s not always a gimmick—free stuff is totally within your grasp! And you don’t have to spend your days filling out surveys hoping to get samples; use store reward programs to earn points, then cash them in for things you need.

“Learn how to earn the maximum amount of points for the least amount of money,” says Howard. “I love the Optimum points program at Shoppers; it’s changed my life as a parent. When my kids were little I’d always get diapers for about 10 cents or less per diaper with manufacturer coupons and points. A lot of the time, you will find sale items are cheaper than at other stores, especially if you take into account the amount of points you receive on extra points days,” she says.

New on the Optimum scene? Here’s how it works: Whenever you buy something at Shoppers Drug Mart, you earn points by scanning your Optimum card. Some items have bonus points and some days you can earn up to 20 times the points. Shoppers’s newsletters have tailored deals and alert you to their Spend Your Points events, which happen several times per year. Points are redeemable in increments of $10, $30, $60, $85 and $170. If you’re saving for a big-ticket item, it’s best to redeem your points during the Spend Your Points events when points are worth more than face value.

PC Plus is another card that can be used at all of the President’s Choice banner stores, like No Frills, Loblaws and Real Canadian Superstore, to earn points that you can spend to buy groceries or anything in the store, including clothing and gift cards. Every time you scan your card, the system logs your items, then caters deals to those types of products. Load your offers each Friday and watch your points add up. PC points are redeemable in 20,000 increments or $20.

6. Buy nothing new
A fun money-saving challenge is to shop exclusively second-hand for pretty much everything, from your clothing to your kitchenware. Thrift stores like Value Village, Talize and Once Upon a Child are brimming with practical finds, like cooldecor and household items, toys and barely used brand-name clothing, including big-ticket items like snowsuits. If you have time to search, shelves are lined with heavily discounted books for kids and adults. Not your thing to sift through thrift shops? Go online to check out local mom-swap groups, Kijiji and Craigslist for gently used kids’ items.

Of course, there are deals to be had at big-box stores, too. If you do buy new, wait for end-of-season clearance sales and buy for next year. Also snoop around for guarantees. Walmart and Sears promise replacements if your child wears out their gear—boots, shoes, clothes, coats—before growing out of them.

7. Make things
If you have the time and patience, homemade anything will stretch your dollar. Why spend six dollars on a store-bought greeting card when your kids can make one (and it will be much more appreciated by the recipient). Have your childrencraft trinkets (look to Pinterest for swoon-worthy DIY inspiration) for relatives to combine a fun activity with a birthday gift. Michaels craft store is a great place to stock up on supplies, with their standard 40 percent off one item deal, and sometimes up to 30 percent off your whole purchase (check Michaels.com for offers). You might also be surprised at the array of crafting goodies at your local dollar store.

8. Family fun on the cheap
Schlepping the fam for a day of fun can get pricey. But in many regions, the local library is more than just a great resource for renting movies and borrowing books—some even offer passes for local attractions. In Toronto, a member with a valid library card can obtain a free family pass (two adults and up to five children) for attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Zoo. Doled out on Saturday mornings, some branches offer passes on a first-come, first-served basis, while others have draws. Similarly, the Hamilton Public Library in Ontario offers a museum pass that can be checked out. Other libraries offer kids’ book clubs, play groups and lessons. Call your branch to see what it has to offer beyond storytime. Howard also suggests following attractions on Facebook. “They often have promotions to save you money.”

9. Adjust thermostat settings 
We all know that an unexpected household expense can creep up like a stealthy ninja and, if you’re just making ends meet on a good month, even something small can throw you into debt. To make more wiggle room in your budget, shave some money off your monthly bills by using a thermostat with a timer that will lower the heat or AC while you’re out of the house or asleep, and try setting your regular temperature a degree or two warmer or cooler than usual, depending on the season. Be sure to change your heating and AC filters regularly. A dusty filter makes for a less effective system and can ultimately shorten its lifespan.

10. Avoid phantom energy use
Unplug items like the toaster, coffee maker and device chargers when not in use—do a nightly sweep of your house to make sure you’ve unplugged or turned off any unnecessary lights, electronics and ceiling fans. If you’re going away for a few days, you could even unplug your stove and hot water tank (but not in the winter, or your pipes will freeze!). Little one afraid of the dark? Rather than leave an energy-sucking lamp on, try an energy-efficient nightlight that turns itself off.

11. Double-check your meter readings
Make sure you’re not being overcharged on your bills. Utility workers are human, so mistakes happen. If your meter reading is less than your bill reflects, call and have it rectified.

12. Repair seals and cracks
Drafty windows and doors can lead you to crank up the heat, but you can easily fill cracks or repair seals yourself with supplies and a little instruction from the staff at the hardware store. Or try making your own draft blocker by sewing a thin piece of fabric the length of your door into a tube shape and filling with kitty litter or sand. You’ll be amazed at how well it blocks under-door drafts.

13. Embrace bundling and ask for savings
When it comes to things like your phone, Internet and cable, bundling options or using family plans to share minutes are good money-saving strategies. Even calling to ask if better deals are available can lead to surprising savings (this is also true with your banking options and fees). Check your services and cancel any that you don’t use, such as voicemail, caller ID, call waiting or add-ons through text. You can even call your credit card company and ask if they can lower your interest rate. Often times they’ll oblige.

14. Couponing: The struggle is real
Coupons are often for sugar-filled processed foods; saving money on produce can be tougher. After becoming a vegan, Howard struggled with couponing. “A lot of vegan- and vegetarian-friendly companies don’t advertise. But I found that if you call and ask, the companies will send you coupons,” she says. And what about those coupons you won’t use? Leave them on store shelves. Chances are someone will benefit from them.

15. Save money with your phone
Read all about money-saving apps here.

A version of this article appeared in our March 2015 issue with the headline, “Living on the cheap”, p.49.

Where to watch the Maclean’s debate on Aug. 6

Maclean's | posted Tuesday, Aug 4th, 2015

The 2015 federal election will be the most important and dramatic in a generation. Watch and engage during the Maclean’s National Leaders Debate Aug. 6. Have your say too—what would you ask our leaders? Comment on our Facebook page. And make sure to bookmark macleans.ca/debate, where you’ll be able to live-stream our debate, participate in live poll questions, and get involved in the discussion. More details on where to watch are below.

DEBATE-Where-to-watch6

Partners:

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What to watch for in the Maclean’s debate

Aaron Wherry | posted Tuesday, Aug 4th, 2015

Control the water supply. That is how the debate is won.

This much was apparently advised in a memo to British Conservative leader David Cameron in 2010, subsequently leaked to the Daily Mail. The author of the advice was a Canadian strategist named Patrick Muttart, a former adviser to Stephen Harper and one of the brighter minds credited with helping to bring the Conservative party to power here in 2006. In what Cameron’s team claimed was an unsolicited submission, Muttart apparently counselled Cameron to “practise staring down” Labour leader Gordon Brown while the camera was focused on the moderators or other leaders, since that “makes your opponent feel uncomfortable.” When attacking or responding to his opponent, though, Cameron should “look at his opponent’s shoulder and not his face,” because “facial reactions can be distracting/destabilising.” Don’t write notes while someone else is speaking, because viewers will find that rude. Personal attacks should be well-constructed, but infrequent. Instead of “abstract ideological musings,” the candidate should “use viable, easy-to-understand solutions.” And mind the water. “Ensure Cameron has room-temperature water,” Muttart was reported to have written. “Cold water (with ice) tightens the throat. You should control his water—not the TV studio.”

Here is how the grandest stage of federal politics is managed—a hint of the fussy preparation and consideration that precedes the modern political debate. And here, perhaps, is some insight into how Harper has quietly won so many of these moments.

Beyond even the gains his party has made in each of the last three elections, the Prime Minister is, arguably, on something of a winning streak. Although he has struggled in French-language confrontations, he has otherwise come out ahead nearly every time he has been put on stage beside his rivals. Going back to 2004, he was judged to be the winner of the English-language debate by 31 per cent of respondents to an Ipsos Reid poll, 13 points ahead of Paul Martin. After a narrow loss to Martin in the first English debate of the 2006 election—32 per cent for Martin, 30 per cent for Harper—Harper won the second English debate by a count of 34 per cent to 31 per cent, according to Ipsos Reid. In 2008, Harper was deemed the winner by a leading 31 per cent, six points ahead of Jack Layton. Three years later, he posted his most decisive victory: 42 per cent of respondents gave the decision to the Prime Minister, 17 points clear of second-place Layton. (Note that, in both 2008 and 2011, the Liberal leader of the day was an also-ran: Stéphane Dion placing fourth in 2008 and Michael Ignatieff placing third in 2011.)

The potential impact of a debate is possibly more nuanced than a quick judgment of who won, but there is much to be said for winning. And while he will not be remembered as a poetic weaver of words, Harper is perhaps not given his due as a master of rhetoric and controller of the moment. Set against the complaints and challenges of his critics, Harper is smooth and unhesitating, but calm and reassuring. Ever ready with a response, he pleads for reasonableness with open palms and dulcet tones. At one point in 2011, as the debate became mired in competing claims about the nature of parliamentary governance, the Prime Minister sounded as if he might cry, as he beseeched voters to give his party a majority. “I’m worried that, quite frankly, this country, at some point, we’re going to lose our focus on the economy, start raising taxes, start doing things that are not good for the long-run interests of the country, just because of the short-run politics of a minority parliament,” he begged. He looks into the camera when he speaks and he smiles when he has a chance. If you prefer to discuss these sorts of events using boxing analogies, he could perhaps be likened to a great defensive fighter, not easily tagged and good on the counterpunch. Unexciting, but effective.

Dion was overmatched in 2008, and Ignatieff seemed unready in 2011. With a certain reliance on one-liners—“We need more zingers,” the late NDP leader told his advisers before the debates in 2011, according to Building the Orange Wave by NDP strategist Brad Lavigne—Jack Layton had good showings in 2008 and 2011, but his most effective moment was a well-timed, and barely challenged, attack on Ignatieff’s attendance in the House of Commons, one that ultimately decided who won the right to sit across from the Prime Minister in question period.

It is surely possible that the 2015 debates will present Harper with a greater challenge. Although he will come to these meetings with far more experience than his challengers, he is also, after another four years in power, more vulnerable than he was in 2008 or 2011. Since that second debate in 2006, he has come to stage with a lead. In at least the first debate, he will be the underdog. And over the last few months, Harper has seemed in the House to be a man who is conscious that he must fight to keep his job—more aggressive, more urgent—which perhaps portends a more combative debater.

His competition is potentially strong—at the very least, intriguing. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, widely noted for his QP performances and touted by Brian Mulroney as the best Opposition leader since John Diefenbaker, is the most aggressive challenger Harper has faced, and he has shown some ability to think on his feet. One pre-debate poll even made the NDP leader the favourite—37 per cent of respondents telling pollster Nik Nanos’s firm that they expect Mulcair to win a leaders debate, compared to 26 per cent for Harper and just 16 per cent for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.The fast-talking and undaunted NDP leader will also come to the first debate as the presumptive favourite to become the next prime minister after this fall’s vote. That is an idea he can either confirm or undermine.

The stakes for the third-place Trudeau are different, but similar. The Conservatives have expended great effort portraying him as an unworthy goof, and now he can either confirm or exceed that portrayal. New to the arena and relegated to a few questions, Trudeau struggled within the confines of question period to establish himself beside the leading clash of Mulcair and Harper, but he is also supposed to be something of a skilled and likable communicator. And the televised debate is something different than the cacophonous confrontation of QP.

And then there is May. She was last seen in a leaders debate in 2008, and it might be remembered that she was an interesting challenge for the Prime Minister then, not only as a source of pointed criticism, but as a changer of the dynamic. Bruce Carson, a former adviser to Harper who participated in preparing the Conservative leader for the 2008 debates, has written in his political memoir, 14 Days, of worrying that one wrong move with May could ruin the Conservative party’s efforts to build support among women.

Set against relative parity in opinion polls and the first real three-way race in federal history, there are struggles within the struggle here: Mulcair and Trudeau have not only to best Harper, but also each other, and May might like to see the Greens win more than one seat this fall. But it will surely be most interesting to see whether anyone can beat the Prime Minister, who, presumably, will be well-prepared.

Pending water temperature, it is perhaps down now to who chokes.

Click here for the Federal Leaders Debate.

Week of August 4, 2015

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Jul 31st, 2015

Coming up on Breakfast Television this week:

Be sure to tune in Tuesday as Christian Pritchard shows us how to create the ultimate smores.

On Thursday, Macleans’ Paul Walls will be chatting about the federal leader’s debate airing on City Thursday evening.

And to end off the week Friday, delicious dishes with peaches.

Be sure to watch BT weekdays 5:30 to 9 a.m. on City, right here at BTtoronto.ca, or on our Breakfast Television mobile app for iOS and Android!

August long weekend 2015: What’s open and closed in Toronto

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Jul 31st, 2015

The August long weekend – Simcoe Day in Toronto – is a civic holiday and a long weekend for many people in the Greater Toronto area.

The holiday goes by many names across the province, and it goes by different names and is often celebrated with different traditions across the country. In Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island the day is known as Natal Day, while it is Regatta Day in Newfoundland. In Ottawa the Civic Holiday is often referred to as Colonel By Day.

Businesses are not required to close Monday under the provincial Retail Business Holidays Act, so they may open at the discretion of the municipality.

Below is a list of what’s open and closed in the GTA:

Open

  • Tourist attractions (ROM, Ontario Science Centre, Toronto Zoo, Ripley’s Aquarium)
  • Major malls (Eaton Centre, Yorkdale, Fairview, Sherway Gardens, Square One, Vaughan Mills)
  • Select Beer Store locations (Click here for a full list)
  • LCBO (378 stores across the province will be open. Click here to find your store)
  • Movie theaters
  • City-run facilities like pools, splash pads and golf courses. (Click here for details)
  • Riverdale Farm
  • High Park Zoo
  • Toronto Islands and ferries

Closed

  • AGO
  • Banks
  • Government offices
  • Post offices and mail delivery
  • All Toronto Public Library branches

Weekend Events

Click here for what you need to know for the Caribbean Carnival, including road closures and a parade route map.

Five things to do this weekend: Caribbean Carnival, food trucks and Kurt Russell, oh my!

CityNews | posted Friday, Jul 31st, 2015

July 31 – Aug. 3, 2015

We have a variety of happenings for the August long weekend, ranging from the Caribbean Carnival to a food truck festival. Check out our selection of events below.

Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival: Grand Parade

The 46th edition of the popular cultural festival culminates with the colourful grand parade, set for Saturday at 9:30 a.m. starting at Exhibition Place and continuing down Lake Shore Boulevard West.

For route information of this event, head over to caribbeancarnival.com.

Click here for what you need to know for the Caribbean Carnival, including road closures and a parade route map.

Indie Friday at Yonge and Dundas Square

The free concert series put on by Virgin Mobile continues Friday night at 8:30 p.m., with Toronto’s Tre Mission – nominated for Juno Rap Recording of the Year in 2015 – and Mississauga-based Keita Juma taking the stage.

Below is a sample of Keita Juma’s latest album, Chaos Theory, or click here for a mobile-friendly version.

Toronto Food Truck Festival

Sample the most delicious food on four wheels at Woodbine Park on Saturday and Sunday. Also on tap, the ever-entertaining eating challenges. Admission is free to the event, which runs from noon until 9 p.m. on both days.

For food truck bios and directions, go to torontofoodtruckfestival.com.

Pan American Food Festival

And if food trucks aren’t your cup of tea, you could always check out the Pan American Food Festival at Daniels Spectrum at 585 Dundas St. E. The festival showcases restaurants, food producers, chefs and the variety of cuisines of the Western Hemisphere, and spotlights Mexican cuisine this year. The event also features entertainment that runs until midnight each night.

For details, visit panamfoodfest.com.

Russell Mania!

A summer-long series celebrating Kurt Russell’s best films continues at the TIFF Lightbox on Saturday. This weekend’s selection is the classic 90s Western Tombstone, starring the man himself, plus Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, and Bill Paxton. “Wyatt Earp, huh? I heard of you.”

Showing begins at 9:30 p.m. Click here for ticket information.

If you have a suggestion, email us at torontoweb@citynews.ca or submit it online at CityNews.ca,680News.com and via our iPhone and iPad apps.

Iconic Kraft Dinner rebrands, is now officially called KD

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Jul 30th, 2015

It’s been a staple at Canadian dinner tables for decades and now the company will be calling it what you’ve been lovingly calling it for years.

Kraft Canada announced on Thursday that Kraft Dinner has been rebranded to simply ‘KD.”

“You may recognize our new name from what you’ve always called us. #KDisnowKD” the company Tweeted.

Canadian rapper Kardinal Offishal stopped by Breakfast Television on Thursday to promote the rebranding.

“Everybody, everywhere, we’ve all grown up on Kraft Dinner,” Kardi said. “And for decades Canadians have called it KD.”

He then announced that in solidarity he would be changing his name for one day.

“Because of their love and appreciation for the fans, they officially changed the name to KD so in solidarity with them I am also changing my name to Kardinal D’Offishal, so I’m KD with KD.”

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