Take Control of Your Finances

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“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 april@blackstar.group www.onenumbersolutions.com

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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:

http://itools-ioutils.fcac-acfc.gc.ca/BC-CB/NetInc-RevNet-eng.aspx

 

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Some financial truths …

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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.  https://itools-ioutils.fcac-acfc.gc.ca/ACT-OCC/SearchFilter-eng.aspx
  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 (https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/financial-literacy-database.html), 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 (https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/the-cpa-profession/financial-literacy/financial-literacy-education), 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

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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 (https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/financial-literacy-database.html), 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 (https://www.cpacanada.ca/en/the-cpa-profession/financial-literacy/financial-literacy-education), 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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Three ways that you can invest in your financial well-being

By Mary Ann Marriott, CIRP, LIT

November is Financial Literacy month, and I couldn’t think of a better focus for a month. Of course I am biased as I am a Licensed Insolvency Trustee and it is my job to help people sort out their financial woes. And we Canadians (really, all of us around the globe) have lots of financial woes.

Personally I do have a pet peeve with the education system omitting basic financial education in the school system. I mean, I get it, we have limited resources, but personal finances are, without a doubt, one of the major pillars of life. Your finances support every aspect of your life from your emotional to physical well-being.

So where does one start if they have not had the benefit of receiving sound financial education in their lifetime?

The following are three things that you can do today to invest in your financial wellness on the most basic level:

  1. Connect with resources available to you to provide the information and education you need at each stage of your life. Follow blogs, get books from the library or listen to podcasts, whatever works best for your lifestyle. Be informed! Get advice on any area of your life, including but not limited to:
    1. Planning for your first home
    2. Setting up a home / paying bills
    3. Raising kids
    4. Retirement planning
  1. Be open to new ways of doing things. Try new things. What’s that you say Dr. Phil? “How’s that working for you?” J …. If you keep doing what you are doing you will keep getting what you are getting. Do one small thing at a time and evaluate its effectiveness. If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, try something new. Would you like some examples?
    1. You usually pay your bills when they come due….try paying them a week or two in advance. The first month or two will take some planning, but once you are in the grove, the financial output will be the same.
    2. You pick up groceries every day on the way home….try making a list and buying groceries once a week or every couple of weeks, stopping less often.
    3. You use your credit cards as an emergency fund….try saving for the so-called ‘emergencies’ such as car maintenance, gifts, etc.
  1. Track your spending. Information, as they say, is power! The most powerful thing you can do to invest in your financial future is figure out where every cent you earn is going and evaluate whether the expense is worth it or not. It is amazing to me, when I do this exercise with people, how many hundreds of dollars are being spent mindlessly without any concern for what else they could be buying for you. The biggest culprits:
    1. Food & beverages outside of the house – dining out, fast food, coffees, etc. I have seen clients spending hundreds every month. That’s ok, if these things are THAT important to you, but what else could you do with that $100, $200, $300 per month?! Maybe take that trip you want, or pay off debt, or work towards some other goal.
    2. Groceries – does anyone NOT think they spend too much on groceries and household items? Start tracking and start saving. Changing small habits can have big impacts.
    3. Kids – instead of giving your kids money every time they want something, put them on an allowance (their own personal budget) and let them learn the value of money. Figure out what you are spending on them now, discuss a suitable allowance amount and voilà! Instant savings!

Your financial future is in your hands. You can simply let it slip away through your fingers or tighten your grip and hold onto some of that cash each month. Your choice! ~ Happy Healthy Finances

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Invest in your “Financial Well-being”

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By Crystal Buhler, CPA, CGA, CIRP , LIT

A quick scroll through our social media feed, and we are inundated with slogans telling us to, “Take care of your body”, “Eat Healthy”, or that “Mental Health Matters”. These are all true, and each is vital to one’s overall well-being. However, many Canadians may not realize that properly managed finances can also have a positive impact on health.

The Government of Canada has designated November as Financial Literacy Month (FLM). The first FLM was launched in 2011 to raise awareness among Canadians about the importance of financial literacy in strengthening an individual’s financial well-being. Since then, community organizations, volunteer groups, agencies and associations such as CAIRP have become involved in FLM. ​

This year’s theme is investing in your “Financial Well-being”. The goal is to encourage Canadians to take control of their finances and reduce financial stress by improving their financial literacy. Materials available from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) promote steps such as making a budget, having a savings and debt reduction plan, and understanding financial rights and responsibilities.

As CIRPs, we have the skills to educate fellow Canadians about such topics as debt, credit ratings, budgeting, and options available for those in financial difficulties. If you are looking for material to share, a good place to start can be found here:

Financial Literacy Database:

https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/financial-literacy-database.html

November Calendar of Events

https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/campaigns/financial-literacy-month/calendar.html

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

(Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/campaigns/financial-literacy-month/about.html )

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10 Hacks to Avoid the Back to School Lunch Dilemma

By Mary Ann Marriott, CIRP, LIT

The kids have been back to school for a few weeks now, and parents are, undoubtedly (hopefully?), getting back into the routine.

Boy, oh boy, it was nice not to have to pack lunches (or dish out dollars for the cafeteria) over the summer months, wasn’t it?

Studies have shown that the cost to pack a lunch is approximately half of the cost to buy it (depending upon the school lunch program of course). My kids are in Jr High and High school and buying lunch off school property tends to be more expensive and less nutritious.

I have to admit, I like the convenience of handing over a $5 bill versus making a lunch…but my budget does not. Trying to decide what to make for dinner every evening is challenging enough. Add to that the “lunch decision” and it’s just another thing on the agenda.

And the kids are no help.

Every parent: “What do you want for lunch kids?”
Every moody teenager: “I dunno, whatever…”
The frustrated parent: “How about an egg salad sandwich?”
The frustrating teen: “Nah”
The increasingly frustrated parent: “Tuna wrap?”
The ‘apparently doesn’t have a clue how annoying they are’ teen: “Nah”

Of course there is a simple solution (besides pulling out that $5 bill), make them responsible for packing their lunch. I probably should, they are old enough now, and other parents do it…but then my oldest tells me stories about the friend who brought a container of lettuce and some crackers to school because she was in a rush to make her own lunch. Well…at least there was lettuce. It could be worse. And, I want to be a loving Mum, a supportive Mum, and it’s the least I can do to ensure they eat something substantial to get them through the day.

Will we ever feel like we are doing it right? 😉

Back to the article…I offer the following 10 hacks to help make this part of the school year a little easier on your head and your bank account. May you find a gem or two to help maintain your sanity.

  1. Always prepare the night before. There is enough to do in the morning to get everyone moving, preparing the lunches the night before takes some of that pressure off.
  2. Lunches don’t have to be traditional. We tend to think of sandwiches or wraps as the lunch staple, but thermos’s have opened up a whole host of possibilities
    1. Soup (of course)
    2. Pasta (pack some parmesan cheese and salt & pepper packs with it)
    3. Hot dogs in water in the thermos, pack a bun and packs of condiments
      1. Side note: save those packs of condiments
      2. Another side note: Pre-heat the thermos by filling with hot water to keep it warm longer
    4. Create your own snacks … cheese, crackers and cut up ham, or pepperoni for example
    5. Cut up fruit and veggies, put some salad dressing in small container and add some cheese cubes for some protein
    6. Salads make a nice healthy lunch, maybe pack the tomatoes separately, or leave them out, as they tend to make it too wet
    7. Have your child(ren) do their lunches up once a week, or more, depending on your schedule and comfort level
    8. Leftovers can work well, especially if they like cold pizza, or have a microwave they can use (or, if it fits, leverage that thermos)
    9. On the above note, make lunch while you make dinner. Let’s say you are having stir fry for dinner, cut up extra peppers, broccoli and cauliflower to put in lunch boxes.
    10. Use a “buy one get one” coupon the next time you grab lunch at a fast food place and pick up something for their lunch. I recently did this with Subway and my son had a delicious half-sub for lunch the next day.
    11. Create “separate packing areas” in lunch boxes by using silicone muffin liners or smaller containers inside larger ones.

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Summer Activities on a Budget

By Shelley Koehli, LIT

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It’s that time of year, half way through summer and you’re looking to keep the kids occupied on a budget and have some great family fun.  There’s no need to pay big ticket prices to hit an adventure park or attraction.  There are many budget friendly ways to enjoy the summer, here are my top five:

Picnics

Packing a picnic and hitting the beach, lake or spray park is an economical way to beat the heat, enjoy some family time and create memories.

Take a Hike!

Now is a great time to explore local hiking trails in your area.  Don’t forget to pack lots of water, snacks and sunscreen and perhaps a bathing suit should there be a lake or creek at the end of the trail.

Festivals

My community just hosted the largest food truck festival in Canada and hosts many community oriented events throughout the summer.  These events are family friendly, free to attend and tons of fun.  You can go with a budget in mind and pack snacks and water to reduce the costs.  Enjoy!

Backyard Parties

A potluck with friends and/or family is always a great budget conscious way to socialize and have fun.

Road Trip!

One of my favourite summer pastimes is to choose a destination within a couple of hours of home and go explore for the day.  Again, pack snacks and drinks for the ride and enjoy the scenery, maybe a waterfall or two and explore a different part of your Province or City.

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