Birthday Parties Reconceived.

birthday party

It’s a new year and it’s time for a new round of birthday parties.  For those of you who have school-aged kids, it’s most weekends.  Talk about expensive, even if you have a budget for gift purchases, and for families that are low income, it can be a lot of stress and worry, especially if you have multiple children.

I have a child in Grade 2 and starting in Kindergarten the invites came fast and furious.  The pressure to invite the whole class is real and even if you don’t invite the whole class it seems that most parties have at least 10 kids.  Does my child need 10 birthday presents outside of what he gets from family? Absolutely not, although I’m sure he’d argue that he certainly does need them.

A trend that is becoming more and more popular as part of a cultural shift toward sustainable living and reducing excess in our homes is the toonie, fiver or the 50/50 birthday party.  The idea behind these parties is the birthday child gets to save or spend half of what they receive and donate the other half to a charity of their choice.  I’ve also heard that the funds can get split three ways; spend, save and donate.  I think this is a fantastic idea and one I’m going to be trying out this year when my son turns 8.

Not only does the child get to pick out a larger gift for themselves but they also learn about giving to a charity of their choice.  It’s an opportunity to discuss with your child different charities and it allows them to explore what is important to them and why. It also takes away the stress of what to buy, removes the cost barrier for a low-income family, and let’s not forget about cutting back on clutter!  Another bonus is teaching your child budgeting and the value of a dollar.

I see this trend as a win-win-win, for the birthday child, the parents and the gift givers all around.

I hope to see this trend grow, for so many reasons and I hope you do too.



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New Year Financial Goals

By Shelley Koehli, CIRP, LIT

There has been a lot of articles in the news lately talking about tackling debt.  It is the New Year after all and it should be top of mind. According to a poll done by CIBC, 26% of Canadians say paying down debt is their top financial priority for 2019.

Statistics Canada keeps a close look at Canada’s debt to disposable income ratio and in the third quarter of 2018, stats showed that Canadians owed almost $1.74 for every dollar of disposable income. These numbers are near record breaking and are causing many Canadians to worry about their financial position.

Tackling debt repaying on your own is a great option if you have sufficient cash flow to deal with it in a reasonable time or with a few tweaks to your budget. But what do you do if you don’t have the cash flow even after you’ve tweaked your budget?

Licensed Insolvency Trustees administer options legislated by the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA). One of the most effective options to get out of debt is by the filing of a consumer proposal.

A consumer proposal is an option that allows a person to make a settlement offer to their creditors to settle the debt, often for much less than what you owe. The benefits of this option and how it can help you realize your financial goals are:

  1. Negotiate and repay a portion of your debt in one monthly payment
  2. Fixed monthly payment without interest for the term (up to 5 years)
  3. Keep your assets
  4. Stop garnishments or collection activity
  5. Fees included in your negotiated payment
  6. Cash flow is freed up, allowing you to consider other financial goals such as long-term savings
  7. Personal goals are more likely to be achieved when you have less worry and stress in your life

If you are interested in finding out more about this option, please contact an LIT in your area for a free consultation.

Shelley Koehli is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee and Vice President of Smythe Insolvency Inc. based in North Vancouver, British Columbia

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Three things you can do to get your financial house in order this year.

By Mary Ann Marriott, CIRP, LIT

financial house

Happy 2019! With the New Year comes new intentions…a reflection on the past year and a setting of intentions (resolutions) for the year ahead. I’m sure by now you have your financial intentions set and in place.  Yes? Maybe? No? Well, for those who do not, or might need a boost or tweaking, the following are three things you can do to help prepare your finances for a bit of housekeeping this year.

  • Reflect on the past year.

First and foremost, take a look at last year. Simply spend some time reflecting on what worked well and what did not. Did you incur debt? Pay debt off? Increase your Net Worth? Reduce it? Have no idea what a Net Worth is? Do you feel like you had a handle on your spending? Or did the year just disappear in a blur with very little control over where your money went? Do you have enough insurance? Savings? Investments? Did your money go towards necessities last year or did you invest in yourself? Your family? Did your money create stress in your life or bring you joy?

Get an overall sense of last year. Celebrate your accomplishments and choose one or two areas that you feel didn’t quite live up to your expectations.

  • Set your intention for this year

Here are some examples of intentions that you might set based on your reflection of the last year:

  • Reduce your outstanding debt (notice I didn’t say ‘eliminate’ it) –  Although that may be a wonderful resolution or intention, it may not be realistic. Reducing your debt, however, is very realistic. You can go deeper and set a specific target if you would like or simply leave it open.
  • Become more aware of my spending habits – This could involve starting each month with a plan or tracking your expenses on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. You may want to utilize a tracking app. Your bank may provide an in-house program or you could use a free app such as Mint to do the work for you. Simply review where you spent your money on a monthly basis. I promise the rest falls into place with this one simple process.
  • Invest in myself – This is a wonderful intention that sets the stage to spend your money in a way that brings you joy. So, for every money action (purchases, savings) you ask yourself, “Will this bring me joy?” It helps cut back on frivolous, meaningless spending and focuses on directing your money to more meaningful places.
  • Put in place a system to monitor your progress or, at the very least remind you of your intention throughout the year

The most common challenge when setting up your plans for the New Year is keeping on track. With today’s technology it is so easy to set up a system to remind you of your objectives.

  • Set a reminder on your phone or computer with a daily repeat. It pops up, you see it, mark it complete for the day and it pops back up the next day.
  • Look for pictures that represent what you want to accomplish. Save them on your computer as the backdrop (or screen saver) and/or your phone’s wallpaper. It’s the current version of a vision board.
  • Or, create a vision board. Perhaps as a family if it is a family intention. Put it somewhere where you will see it regularly. As you accomplish something, note it on your vision board.
  • Start a 2019 journal. On one side record your “celebrations” and on the other side your action wish list. Check in daily or weekly or monthly. Whatever works with your schedule.
  • Create a buddy system where you work on your intentions together and check in regularly, maybe over coffee one a month. Make it fun!
  • Join a group of like-minded people and create a 2019 Intentions Mastermind group to keep you focused and on track. Set regular meetings, review your progress, share your challenges, motivate and learn from each other.

Whatever you do, it starts with that one first step. Take that one step today and be kind to yourself. “You don’t have to accomplish everything, you just have to accomplish something.”

Wishing you all happy healthy finances


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Ideas that may help you think outside of the box to relieve your financial stress during the holidays.


By Debora Kwasnicky, CIRP, LIT

With the busy lives we lead, December can be a stressful time with additional work deadlines, social commitments, decorating your home, incessant sales and spending.  It is easy to get overwhelmed, whether your financial circumstances are such that you have no money beyond your basic living expenses, have over extended early to take advantage of the continuous sales or have other commitments.  Perhaps we can learn from the Grinch’s quote “Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.”  Below are ideas that may help you think outside of the box to relieve your financial stress during the hectic season.

  1. Gifts not from the store.
    If you think back, some of the nicest gifts that you received may not have come for a store. It may have been a family heirloom or decoration, homemade craft, gift card for a cooked meal or even an offer to help around the home.  One of the nicest gifts I received was a recipe book prepared by my mother with handwritten family recipes filed in a photo album.  The costs of these gifts are nominal in comparison to the store-bought gifts yet have a personalized touch that is priceless.
  2. Turn down the lights.
    BC Hydro indicated in a recent Vancouver Sun article that hydro usage rates have gone up 7.5% in the past seven years, despite the switch to the more energy efficient LED lights and after adjustment for the population increase.  Reducing the size of the outdoor light display or restricting the time the lights are shown will reduce your overall utility bill.
  3. Name drawing or price limits for gifts.
    You might try to suggest that your family draw names or set price limits if this is not already something you practice. Trying to purchase gifts for the entire family and friends can be daunting, particularly if you are in a blended family after a  marital separation.  Although most people prefer to purchase for the younger family members, you may find that suggesting a draw to purchase a gift for a single family member or even a price limit for the gifts is often welcomed.   Others may be feeling the same financial pressure but afraid to speak up.
  4. Pot luck meals or altering locations.
    If you are planning the family dinners at your home, the family and friends can be asked to bring a dish or beverage. Most people will be happy to help if they have not already offered.  It is also nice if you set a tradition to alter who hosts the event each year.
  5. Take control of your expenses. The holiday season can be a time of excess eating, entertainment and spending.  Many people recognize the need to exercise or cut back on their diets after the season.  This same philosophy should extend to your budget.  Interest rates have been rising.  If you have over extended on your spending, take the first step to take control by reviewing your budget and setting a goal to pay off any balances owing as soon as possible.

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Take Control of Your Finances


“Rarely in our life is money a place of genuine freedom, joy, or clarity, yet we routinely allow it to dictate the terms of our lives and often to be the single most important factor in the decisions we make about work, love, family, and friendship.”
Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life

Everyone has a money story, a set of beliefs which either limit us and keep us in a constant state of fear about money or help us to live in abundance with it. Many of the stories that we tell ourselves about money are centered on our upbringing and our parents’ relationship with it. If you ask yourself the question “what is my first memory of money?” you will be astounded at what you come up with. Chances are your first memory of money shapes how you feel about it today. I once asked a client this question and she told me that when she was young she was given an allowance for doing chores around her house. In her mind, the list of chores was very long and the money she received was not equal to the work. She has carried that money story with her into adulthood, always working hard for others and never expecting to be paid what she is worth.

The second influence on your relationship with money is how your brain works.  To put it simply, your brain is made up of two parts; one controls emotions and the other rational thought. The emotional part of your brain wants the new shoes, even though you know you can’t afford them and you have several pairs at home already. The rational part of your brain justifies the purchase because they were on sale. Money does not equal math; if it did, then we would all do the right things with it, like save. Money is emotional. Your brain and your heart are always in a constant battle over it.

The third influencer on how you spend your money is your life and particularly those you surround yourself with. We have all heard the saying “keeping up with the Jones” In this day and age of social media bombardment, we are keeping up with the Jones on steroids! All the carefully curated photos we post of ourselves on Facebook and Instagram are having an effect on us and our spending behaviours. When you see your neighbour post a picture on Facebook of their spring break trip to Hawaii you start to ask yourself, “Why can’t I take a trip like that?” and off you go booking a trip on Expedia. I am here to tell you that chances are your neighbour can not afford their trip either and that the whole thing is being financed by Visa or MasterCard.

So how do we take control of our finances? The first step is to change your mind set about money. Be aware of your spending habits. Try tracking your spending for a month to see where your traps are. Typically behavioural spending happens in: retail purchases, convenience foods, restaurants, alcohol, personal grooming and entertainment. Next accept where you are. There is absolutely no use in feeling shame and guilt around what you have done so far with your finances. Accept where you are and be willing to change. If old habits have put you in a place where you do not feel in control of your finances then be open and willing to look for new ways.  Once you have a plan in place you must take action. By changing your mindset about your money you are on your way to better financial health.

The secound step is to improve your financial literacy. We are not taught about money at school and chances are your parents did not teach you about it either. There are several great books on financial literacy and money mindset, as well as podcasts, ted talks and online courses. Seek out a money coach or financial advisor that specializes in money mindset. Self education is always the best education.

Third, take a holistic approach to your finances and financial plan. Start with your cash flow and spending behaviours. Have a strategy as to how you are going to tackle your spending. Next get unwanted debt under control by smoothing out payments to your lines of credit, loans and credit cards. Put a safety net in place in case life doesn’t go according to plan and finally start funding for your future. Again a financial coach or advisor that specializes in holistic planning can help.

Finally start talking about money with your partner, your children and your friends. We need to end the taboo around talking about money. Out of control finances are affecting our mental and physical health as well as our relationships. In fact according to the 2018 Manubank survey on Canadian debt 40% of mental health issues are tied to money stress and fighting over money is the top reason for divorce in this country. We need to end the stigma around talking about money.

It takes more than willpower to change any habit including money mindset but with the right tools, the desire and willingness to change you can take control of your finances.

April Stroink is a money coach and works with people who are ready to transform their relationship with their money. Her proprietary One Number Solution program helps guide people on their money journey from fear to freedom. She can be reached at

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How A Consumer Proposal Can Help Set Your Financial Goals

By Mary Plahouras, CFE, L.L.M

week 5

What is a Consumer Proposal?

The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (the “BIA”), defines a Consumer Proposal as:

  1. A plan to settle your debts with your unsecured creditors on a percentage of the total amount owing to your unsecured creditors; or,
  2. A plan for an extension of time for payment; or,
  3. Both

Payments to the Consumer Proposal are made to the Licensed Insolvency Trustee (LIT).  The LIT will distribute the funds on a pro-rata basis to all your unsecured creditors.

What terms are included in a Consumer Proposal?

Pursuant to the BIA, a Consumer Proposal must provide that its performance is to be completed within 5 years.  The Consumer Proposal must provide for payment in priority of all claims of preferred creditors and for payment of all prescribed fees and expenses of the LIT.   The terms of the Consumer Proposal must also state the manner in which the LIT will distribute the available funds to the creditors in accordance with the terms of the Consumer Proposal.

How flexible is a Consumer Proposal?

Flexibility is one of the major advantages of filing a Consumer Proposal.  A Consumer Proposal can provide you with the flexibility of repaying your settled unsecured debts with monthly payments based on your income and your particular circumstances.  Interest stops accruing on the date your Consumer Proposal is filed with the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy (OSB).  The repayment period is flexible and may be up to, but cannot exceed, 5 years.

What important steps should you take after filing a Consumer Proposal?

Get a fresh start by making a new commitment to yourself.  Develop new habits and goals by developing a financial plan and making budgeting and savings a part of your everyday life.  Aside from helping reduce financial stress, creating a monthly budget can help you visualize where you are spending your income and how much you are spending.  There are many budgeting tools available on the internet to help you create a budget.

Think of ways to pay yourself first.  Incorporating a savings plan into your monthly budget can help you set and reach your financial goals.  If you are coming up short on your savings, adjust your budget so that you can reach your savings goals.  If you are part of a group plan at work that matches employee contributions, maximize your employer match.  Employee-employer contributions to a group plan will help your money grow faster. For example, an employer may offer a match on RRSP contributions where you can contribute a percentage of your pay and they will match your contribution either at 100% of what you contribute or at a lower percentage.  Another idea would be to include any tax refunds into your financial plan.  The tax refunds may then be used to pay down the Consumer proposal or alternatively, the refunds may be invested for short-term or long-term goals.

Ways to rebuild your credit after filing a Consumer Proposal?

In the province of Ontario, Equifax will keep a record of a Consumer Proposal for a period of 3 years from the date of full performance of the Consumer Proposal.  TransUnion will keep a record for a period of 6 years from the date of filing the Consumer Proposal with the OSB or 3 years from the date of full performance of the Consumer Proposal.  You do not need to wait for the expiry of the above time periods before being able to rebuild your credit.

One good way to rebuild your credit after a Consumer Proposal is to apply for an unsecured credit card, use the credit card for purchases you would have normally paid for in cash or by debit, and upon receipt of your monthly credit card statement, make payment to credit card on time and preferably in full.  You should not be paying less than the required minimum as per the credit card statement.  If you cannot obtain an unsecured credit card, consider applying for a secured credit card by providing the issuer with a security deposit equal to the credit limit on the card.  If you opt for a secured credit card, you should confirm with the issuer that the card will be reported at the credit bureau(s) in the same way as an unsecured credit card.

Other ways to rebuild your credit include: avoid maxing out on your credit card(s), use open account(s) from time to time to keep them active, avoid late or missed payments, avoid withholding payments to a lender due to a dispute (i.e. pay the debt first and dispute the matter later), and limit the number of times you apply for credit and the number of inquiries you allow on your credit file.

week 5Budget Calculator from Financial Consumer Agency of Canada:


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Some financial truths …

Financial truths image

By Collin LeGall, CPA, CMA, CIRP, LIT

What is it with this recent obsession with our credit score!  I bet it’s because of the recent onslaught of commercials that tell us how important – and easy – it is to check on it.  But is that true?  Companies that encourage us to check our score regularly and often make money every time we check.  So they want us to believe that it’s important.  But it’s not, really.  Credit scores are only a record of where we’re at.  If we meet our financial obligations regularly and on time, our score will be good.  If we don’t, it won’t be.  It’s that simple.  No need to check all the time.  Annually (or even less often) should be enough.  It’s like worrying about our reputation.  If we’re kind and helpful and reliable and – you get the point – chances are, our reputation will be good.  Same thing financially.

Financial institutions have been offering lines of credit (“LOCs”) for a long time.  It used to be they were only offered to business owners who needed access to funds to be able to order stock on a regular basis without having to run to their lender every time they needed to place an order.  But then lenders figured out that they could offer LOCs to just about anyone.  It’s the “if you build it, they will come” principle.  So more and more of us have given in to the temptation to easy access to other peoples’ money.  And that comes with a hefty price tag.  Easy access has meant more and more individuals and families have fallen deeper into debt.

Just because someone tells us we need to check our credit score, doesn’t mean we do.  And just because someone offers us an easy loan, doesn’t mean we should take it.  Set financial priorities.  Meet needs before wants.  Save money and earn interest, rather than getting a loan and having to pay interest.

A little truth can save us a whole lot of anguish and sleepless nights.  The next time you’re offered a line of credit, say no thanks.  And the next time you hear that you need to check your credit score, say who cares.


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Budgeting for Bank Fees

By Debora Kwasnicky, CIRP

It is the smaller items that can make the difference in our budgets but these are often dismissed or ignored.  If you haven’t looked at your bank, credit card or investment statement recently, you should do so as bank fees are increasingly expensive and difficult to avoid.  Here are 5 tips to reduce or eliminate bank fees in your budget.

  1. Picking the type of account that meets your needs. It is worth reviewing the type of transactions you use prior to obtaining a new bank account so that you can determine what features you require.  If you frequently use the ATM or debit for your transactions, you will need an account that allows for multiple transactions whereas if you just let your money sit with minimal activity, you may be able to use a savings account and obtain interest on the balance.  You may also be eligible for a low-cost account for youth, seniors, etc.  Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has an online tool to assist in choosing a bank account suited to your lifestyle.
  2. Maintaining a minimum balance. Many banks will reduce or waive their monthly bank fees where a minimum balance is maintained in the account.  This balance will vary but can be range from $3,000 to $4,000 for the major banks.  The decision to hold a minimum balance should be reviewed when you are depositing to savings.   If you have limited savings, the interest earned from depositing the funds to your savings account may be less than the bank fees you would incur on your chequing account.
  3. Avoid returned items/NSF Fees. Returned items are costly at approximately $45 per returned payment and $10 per returned deposit.  Options to avoid a returned item include maintaining a minimum balance, keeping a register of your transactions, checking your balance before withdrawals, and setting up text or email alerts to notify you when you reach a certain threshold.  An overdraft protection plan can be considered but comes at a cost which is only slightly less than a returned item.
  4. Avoid ATMs that are not part of your bank network. The ATM that is conveniently located in a convenience store may result in your paying a fee to the ATM provider and another fee to your bank.  Consider planning your withdrawals ahead of time or making a purchase at a grocery store or other retailer and requesting cash back to avoid these extra charges.
  5. Review your banking needs and accounts periodically. Fees are increasing both in amount and type of transactions charged.  Banks review their fees frequently and so should you.  Fees for paper statements, exceeding your permitted transactions, foreign transactions, lost cards, inactive account, etc. may be avoided by finding the account that suits your current lifestyle.  A periodic review of your accounts may help you identify these extra fees and act on them.

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Financial Literacy for New Canadians

By Crystal Buhler , CIRP, LIT

Week 3

Privileges enjoyed by Canadians, including owning a home, opening your own business, or learning a trade require a basic understanding of our complex financial system. While many new Canadians are proficient in their skills upon arrival, many get discouraged as our systems of credit, taxation, and licencing are so vastly different from those they are used to. Not every advisor in the financial industry can be trusted, and not every New Canadian is aware of that. It can be hard to ask questions when you aren’t even sure which questions to ask!

As CIRPs, we often see the fallout of poor decisions, bad advice, or ignorance of taxation rules and deadlines. Countless times we hear, “I didn’t know I had to….”, or “I was told…”, and face a debtor who is as wary of our advice as that which put them in the situation in the first place.

What if we could change that dynamic? What if we could start new Canadians on the right foot – by understanding the importance of credit history, the effect of pledging assets as security and safeguarding of personal information such as access codes? The reality is, that as CIRPs, our skills are a natural complement to do exactly that.

November has been designated as Financial Literacy Month, and as CIRPs, we can do our part to strengthen the financial literacy of all Canadians, and empower them to manage money and debt wisely, create savings, and understand their financial responsibilities. How do you get involved? Check out the Canadian Financial Literacy Database (, the November Calendar of Events (found here) or search for #FLM2018 on your social media. In the alternative, check out the Financial Literacy Seminars available free of charge from CPA Canada (, and collaborate with a local member to host a session in your community, a local school, or organization. The seminars are targeted not only at new Canadians, but include sessions designed for children, Seniors, and Entrepreneurs.

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Financial Literacy and Students


By Crystal Buhler, CPA, CGA, CIRP, LIT

Last month, I had the privilege of presenting one of CPA Canada’s Financial Literacy sessions to a group of Grade 7 and 8 students at a local middle school. I had been advised by the teacher that this particular school’s catchment consisted of children with a varied background, although most came from blue-collar backgrounds, and many had parents who were new to Canada. As I explained first what a CPA was, and second what a CIRP was, it became apparent to me that the word “Debt” was not one that was covered in their English class, or even in math. After a quick discussion on the differences between mortgages, credit cards and payday loans, we launched into a Case Study exploring the choices made by a fictional student throughout her day. Presented with the problem of running late in the morning, the students dissected her subsequent financial choices, such as buying a lunch instead of packing one, and being enticed to visit the shopping mall on her way home, baited by flashy sale signs. As the students and provided suggestions for her to improve, one comment in particular stood out to me.  A quiet Grade 7 student cocked her head to the side, furrowed her brow and asked, “Isn’t $35 a LOT for a kid’s shirt?”. The class immediately provided feedback and the general consensus was that her observation was accurate. It was encouraging to watch kids discuss finances and budgets, just as if they were talking about science concepts or learning a new sport in gym.

As I de-briefed with friends later in the day, many recognized that if Financial Literacy education had been available to them as kids, they may have avoided many of the tough financial lessons learned as adults. While schools obviously have a role to play, not unlike any other topic, if we wish to ensure the next generation has more than just a basic understanding, financial professionals such as CIRPs have an active role to play.

The Government of Canada has designated November as Financial Literacy Month. As CIRPs, this is the perfect forum to collaborate with organizations such as the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and others, to host, participate in events and share resources, helping Canadians learn how to manage their personal finances successfully.

Not sure where to start? Check out the Canadian Financial Literacy Database (, the November Calendar of Events (found here) or search for #FLM2018 on your social media. In the alternative, check out the Financial Literacy Seminars available free of charge from CPA Canada (, and collaborate with a local member to host a session in your community, a local school, or organization. The seminars are targeted not only at school children, but include sessions designed for New Canadians, Seniors, and Entrepreneurs.

Stay tuned for more ways you can get involved with Financial Literacy Month throughout November.

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