Raise your hand if your credit card debt is piling up faster than you can knock it down, or if you're not making much of a dent in a gargantuan mortgage that feels like it will outlive you. Or maybe you have teenagers whose texting addiction is exploding your mobile phone plan, threatening to put you in the poorhouse.
The good news is that you and your family can find little ways to get out of debt faster. Where on earth will you find extra money, you might ask. It could be lying around the house, in a matter of speaking. Here are some ways to find it.
1. Work the phone Sometimes you can reduce your expenses and debt by just making a phone call. A family I know has a 13-year-old daughter who is an avid texter. So proficient are her flying fingers that one month, she rang up a $1,500 bill. No, there is not an extra zero at the end of that number. The family called the mobile phone company to work out a payment plan. The company actually reduced some of the bill, and switched the family’s plan to one that better suited their combined cell phone and text usage. Now the teen texting queen knows how many texts she can send to stay within her plan’s free limit.
Bottom line: If you don’t ask, you won't know. It can be worth spending the telephone time to find out if you qualify for a better deal than what you’re getting now, on everything from interest rates to better plans.
2. Take care of your own renovation waste While there’s a lot in a renovation you can't do yourself, like precision-cutting a countertop or rewiring the kitchen, you can save money by handling the waste disposal yourself. "Contractors put it into one bin and it can be an expensive part of the renovation," says Dale Jackson, a television producer who resides in Halton Hills, Ont. "I separate it and take it to the transfer station with my neighbour’s trailer for a fraction of the cost."
Considering many of us take out a line of credit or even borrow against our home's equity to remodel, it can make financial sense to undertake this aspect of DIY even if we leave the rest to the pros. "I spent about $200 getting rid of waste on my own and knocked about $2,000 off the cost of a $35,000 renovation," Jackson says.
Your reno waste might also find a second life by being reused at places like Habitat for Humanity resale store, where proceeds go to charity.
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3. Sell the junk in the basement The fine print on a recent credit card statement advised me that on my $300 bill, paying the minimum $10 each month would take two years and seven months to pay off – almost the same amount of time it takes to complete law school! That's a long term of debt for a relatively small amount, so I decided to pay it off by selling what I didn't need around the house, setting $300 as my goal.
In my basement, I found a boombox, skis and two Ikea tables, all collecting a respectable layer of dust. A few Craigslist sales later, I drummed up $280 to pay off that statement before the due date, needing only $20 out of my bank account. I also learned that Ikea furniture has a surprisingly high resale value on Craigslist.
4. Stop outsourcing tasks your kids can do "I'm not at the stage yet where I have kids old enough to babysit younger siblings, but I suspect when the time comes, I won’t pay them to do it," says Hamilton-based Julie Cole, mother of six and owner of Mabel's Labels. In the meantime, she gets her kids to help with everything from snow removal to garden maintenance. "We get our kids to do things around the house to save money, particularly because we do not believe that we should pay kids for helping," she says. "When someone starts paying me to make dinner, I'll start paying someone to clear the table," she adds.
Teens can learn how to paint your house (a skill they can parlay into a part-time job to reduce loans in college), and younger kids can wash low exterior windows and sliding glass doors if you give them the correct tools and instruction. Money saved is more money for your mortgage, or to put in a family-vacation-funds jar.
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5. Do a better job of composting and recycling Find out how much you're spending on garbage disposal a year, then see if there's a way you can reduce it, suggests Jackson. "More and more municipalities are imposing user fees on garbage. We always hear about house recycling and composting efforts from an environmental perspective but rarely hear about it from a cost-saving perspective," he adds. It's an easy place to save money so you're not in debt over trash, of all things.
"My municipality doesn't provide trash pickup in my area (so we don't pay for it). It contracts out free weekly recycling pickup to a for-profit company. We need to take our own landfill trash to the dump at a cost of $2 per bag but once we recycle and compost we only fill one bag every six weeks," he says. His yearly garbage outlay: $16.
Driving to the dump isn't feasible for everyone, but in many places you are charged for extra garbage bags, or a larger garbage bin so those are easy expenses to cut back by stepping up composting and recycling efforts, or simply reducing the packaging that comes in to your home.
6. Move date-night and socializing into your living room Forking over your credit card for dinner and movies once a week could easily result in a $400 monthly bill, and that's not including babysitting fees. "My husband and I save money at our house by staying home," says Cole. "People are always talking about the importance of 'date night', but if we go on a date night, we have to hire two babysitters."
"Does this mean we don't spend time together? Absolutely not. Once the kids are in bed we can have a lovely dinner together, share a bottle of wine, have friends drop over," she says. "Sometimes you have to think outside the square. Just because we don't go out doesn't mean we don’t have time to socialize – and in an affordable way," she adds.
Parents who want to get out of the house can team up with another couple and let them go out one night, and switch the next, Cole says.
The move from high school to university is where the rubber meets the road, academically speaking. The transition can be difficult for many students—grades often drop due to much heavier course loads and much stiffer standards. But for Carol Drumm, who is entering her second year at the University of Toronto, the move to post-secondary education was a smooth one.
As a high school student at Toronto's Branksome Hall, Carol was enrolled in an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program instead of the regular curriculum, allowing her to tackle tasks she believes made the transition to university easier.
"The IB program requires students to take six courses and a theory of knowledge course; complete an extended essay, which is a two-year intensive research study in a subject of your choice; and participate in co-curricular activities under the areas of creativity, action and service. Completing all of this work in two years allows IB diploma students to arrive at university with a strong work ethic," says Carol.
An increasingly popular choice for parents and kids across the country, the IB diploma program provides a solid foundation for post-secondary-bound students. Grads say the focus on university prep gives them a distinct leg up. But getting your child into an IB diploma program can be challenging. While the curricula and standards remain consistent across Canada, fees and entrance requirements vary from province to province, district to district and even school to school. Here's what you need to know.
IB is about prioritizing Founded more than 40 years ago by the International School of Geneva in Switzerland, the IB diploma program operates in more than 3,800 schools in 146 countries. Four program levels encompass kindergarten onward, but the diploma program is most often the one parents and post-secondary institutions are looking for.
Sabrina Chee, a Grade 12 IB student at Western Canada High School in Calgary, says any driven student can join the program. "It can take passion, critical thinking and, of course, time management. A student's priorities also play a huge role. Mostly, it takes hard work and a willingness to go above and beyond what you are capable of doing."
Though it may sound like a program for academic elites, that's not the case, says Shelley Maximitch Johnston, an IB teacher at Abbotsford Senior Secondary in British Columbia. "We have such a variety of students that come through," she says. "The program is designed for anyone who has a strong work ethic and a passion for learning."
IB program structure IB programs aim to create well-rounded graduates: students who participate in community service, are physically active and engage in creative endeavours, such as music, dance or debate. But students at the top of their classes in regular public (or private) schools might find themselves needing to dig deeper for their IB diplomas.
All IB schools create their programs out of the IB framework, but each program differs. All the exams (known as "external assessments") are marked by international monitors and serve as ongoing report cards, not only for students but for teachers, too. Emphasis is on inquiry-based learning in which students are placed in the driver's seat to meet critical challenges that build skills needed for university.
Getting into the IB program IB diploma programs are taught in 155 schools in Canada. To find one in your area, use the search tool at ibo.org. There is no agreed-upon approach to how students are admitted. Some schools conduct a series of personal interviews and require entrance essays (completed at home or under the supervision of a proctor). And while some programs require top grades to get in, the overarching philosophy is to identify—and nurture—unrealized potential. Ultimately, schools are encouraged to open up the program to as wide a swath of students as possible. Cost of the IB program While independent schools commonly lump the cost of IB into tuition, public schools lack a unified policy. Costs can be significant because each school is required to pay for an IB program coordinator (who is also a teacher at the school) and annual fees, as well as provide teacher training, says Pamela Gough, a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee. "It's substantially more expensive to run [than the regular curriculum]."
The TDSB doesn't charge the 700 students enrolled in its six IB programs. "The IB program attracts people to the public board because it offers curriculum at a standard that some of the very best private schools offer," Gough says.
But other school boards can't afford such incentives. The Toronto Catholic District School Board bills parents $1,200 per year for the two-year diploma program, while the York Region District School Board charges $1,500 per year. At Abbotsford Senior Secondary in British Columbia, IB diploma program students study for free. There's also the potential for savings down the road. Students may get university credit for the program's three higher-level courses if they achieve a certain grade, though standards vary from university to university. Does IB better prepare your child for university? Andrew Arida, associate registrar for undergraduate admissions at the University of British Columbia, says UBC surveys show that former IB students rate themselves as "very good" or "excellent" more often than other grads in areas such as research skills, library skills, reading, comprehension and presentation preparation.
"International Baccalaureate students enter university more confident in their skills and abilities, and that level of confidence is sustained through to the end of first year," says Arida. "How you do in first year sets you up for the rest of your university career."
According to Arida, IB grads are often more involved on campus, and even the most lacklustre IB students tend to perform as well as (or better than) straight-A grads from traditional programs. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are also more likely to go on to university when enrolled in an IB diploma program.
A somewhat less definable factor—teacher satisfaction—also comes into play. "It's a program in which students who love to learn are being taught by teachers who love to teach," says Arida. "When you've got passionate educators and engaged students, that is remarkable in and of itself."
Carol says one of the most valuable lessons she learned is something many first-year post-secondary students struggle with: finding time for everything. "IB students participate in the arts, numerous clubs, sports teams and service initiatives, and we do this on top of a rigorous academic program. By the time I finished the IB diploma program, I had found my own concept of balance," she says.
For Sabrina, she says she hopes attaining an IB diploma will help her earn a spot at an Ivy League school or a university abroad. "I believe with the help of my teachers, classmates, parents, friends and the resources provided for me in IB, I'll achieve my goal."
Preparing your teens for university can be daunting for both teens and parents. Here are five things university students want parents to relax about.
With files from Robin Stevenson
This story was originally titled "Higher Learning" in the September 2014 issue.
Dainty and flavourful, everyone loves to indulge in tiny bites of traditional tea sandwiches. Though they appear finicky to make, these tea sandwiches are easy to assemble and entirely make-ahead.
Pinwheel Sandwiches Trim crusts from 5 slices white or whole wheat sandwich loaf, cut Pullman-style. (Ask bakery to cut sandwich loaf horizontally, or Pullman style.) Using rolling pin, flatten slices slightly. Spread with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, softened; spread with filling.
Place 1 asparagus spear (or 2 baby gherkins) along 1 short end of each. Starting at asparagus, roll up tightly without squeezing. Wrap each roll tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour. With serrated knife, trim ends; cut each roll into 6 slices.
Makes 30 pieces. Pinwheel Sandwich recipe: Curried Egg Salad Triangle Sandwiches Spread 16 thin slices whole wheat or white sandwich bread with 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, softened; spread filling evenly over 8 of the slices. Top with remaining slices, pressing lightly. Place on rimmed baking sheet and cover with damp tea towel; cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Trim off crusts. Cut each sandwich into 4 pieces.
Makes 32 pieces. Triangle Sandwich recipe: Ham Pickle Spread Square Sandwiches Make sandwiches as in Triangle Sandwiches above except use 8 thin slices white and 8 thin slices whole wheat sandwich bread. Cut each sandwich into quarters.
Makes 32 pieces.Square Sandwich recipe: Pimiento Cheese Spread Finger Sandwiches Make sandwiches as in Triangle Sandwiches above. Cut each sandwich lengthwise into 4 fingers.
Makes 32 pieces. Finger Sandwich recipe: Tuna Olive Salad
Choose the best-quality bread. Never serve end slices. Freezing bread before cutting and then spreading makes for easier handling.
Bread should be lightly buttered no matter what the filling. Butter should be at room temperature before spreading. Sandwiches will not become limp and soggy as readily if you spread butter right to edge of bread.
Cut crusts off bread with long, sharp knife after (not before) assembling sandwiches. This keeps everything neater.
Since tea sandwiches should be delicate, cut each sandwich into thirds or quarters or in half diagonally. Or use cookie cutters to cut into decorative shapes.
Heart disease and stroke are one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women—and risk factors, symptoms and even treatment might vary by age. Here's what you need to know.
It was Dec. 13, 2014. I was getting ready to go out for dinner when suddenly everything went wrong. I lost coordination, almost like I was drunk. I went numb, as if the local anesthetic that dentists use had been applied to half of my body. My arm went limp, I could barely walk and, out of the blue, I got a raging migraine. At 31 years old, I was in the midst of a transient ischemic attack, often called a ministroke, but I had no idea.
It wasn't until the next day, when I was feeling only slightly better, that I realized something was really wrong. I didn't want to wait for an appointment with my family doctor, so I called Telehealth Ontario, the provincial service that connects callers to a registered nurse via telephone. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if I'd had a stroke—but I was too young, or so I thought. But when I described my symptoms, it became clear that I wasn't too young. In fact, the nurse who took my call was worried enough to send paramedics to my house. Soon, I was in the back of an ambulance, rushing through Toronto's busy streets on the way to the hospital.
The statistics Luckily, my stroke was mild, and, in July 2015, I underwent surgery to have a patent foramen ovale closure device inserted to close the hole in my heart. But, to this day, I'm still shocked at how little I knew about the risks associated with stroke and heart disease, or just how common they are. As I soon learned, about 1.6 million Canadians—557,000 of them women over the age of 24—report having cardiovascular disease. And, according to a study looking at factors and behaviours affecting cardiovascular health published in 2013 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, fewer than one in 10 adult Canadians were in ideal cardiovascular health from 2003 to 2011, which means 90 percent of us are making choices that are increasing our risk for a cardiovascular event. In fact, heart disease and stroke is one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women, and most of us have at least one risk factor.
It's a club that I didn't particularly want to be a part of, but having joined, I began wondering what other women's experiences had been like.
Unlike me, when Victoria resident Carolyn Thomas started having a range of symptoms— crushing chest pain, nausea, weakness, sweating and a persistent ache down her left arm—on her 58th birthday, she immediately thought it could be a heart attack and went straight to the ER. But when she got there and told the doctor on duty about her symptoms, he said it was just acid reflux. "I remember exactly what he said," she recalls. " 'You're in the right demographic for acid reflux. Go home and call your family doctor for a prescription for antacids.' " Embarrassed and apologetic, she did just that. But her symptoms persisted for two more weeks. She eventually went back to the hospital, and this time, she was told she was suffering from what was actually one of the most serious types of heart attacks—a complete blockage of her left anterior descending artery, which is often referred to as the widow-maker.
Since then, she has recovered, but it's far from full—she had to retire early and continues to see a specialist at her regional pain clinic.
Irmine MacKenzie also went to the hospital immediately. It's been 35 years since the New Waterford, N.S., resident lost the use of her left arm and leg after suffering a stroke caused by carotid artery stenosis, narrowing of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the brain. She was 61 years old and, having just finished eating breakfast with her husband, John, she headed to the kitchen to tackle the dishes. Suddenly, plates started dropping from her hands, shattering as they hit the floor.
After a six-week hospital stay and a three-month stint in a rehabilitation program in Halifax, she eventually learned to walk again. Her ability to manage quite well over the past three decades is clearly a testament to her grit— and maybe some kind words from a stranger. "I won't ever forget the ambulance driver who took me to the rehabilitation centre," she says. "He told me, 'We're taking you by stretcher now, but you'll be walking out of there with a cane.' " Sure enough, that's exactly what she did.
A better understanding It has now been two years since I suffered my transient ischemic attack, and I feel like I'm still learning about heart health. I now understand the importance of cardiac rehabilitation, for one thing. When I had my stroke, I didn't know this kind of program existed—my cardiologist didn't refer me to one, but having access to dedicated professionals in a safe, encouraging environment could have helped me navigate the health-care system and guided me toward healthier choices.
One thing I found myself, Carolyn and Irmine echoing is how, as women, we must advocate for ourselves in the health-care system, ensuring that our voices are heard and our health is looked after. We need to put ourselves first, without shame or guilt. As Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, says, "It comes back to education and partnership with your health provider. Don't be afraid to ask questions and be informed."
Heart health by the decade Nearly two-thirds of all heart attacks and strokes occur in Canadians 65 or older, but younger Canadians are increasingly at risk. Here's what you need to know at every age.
In your 20s and 30s: Young people with heart-health issues are part of a growing minority. A study published in 2012 out of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that, over a period of 12 years, strokes among people aged 20 to 54 made up an increasingly greater proportion of strokes across all age groups, growing from about 13 percent in 1993–94 to 19 percent in 2005.
Closer to home, the Heart and Stroke Foundation says several studies predict that the rate of strokes among younger adults will double in the next 15 years. The main reason? According to Dr. Tara Sedlak, a cardiologist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical assistant professor at The University of British Columbia, it comes down to lifestyle—high stress levels, poor eating habits, lack of exercise and smoking. Research bears this out: The University of Cincinnati study suggested that a rise in lifestyle-related risk factors (such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol) may contribute to a higher incidence of stroke.
But there is a way to turn the tide: As with other age groups, simple changes such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating healthily could see the rates of cardiovascular disease—and, more specifically, stroke—decrease, says Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.
In your 40s and 50s: Cardiovascular disease is less common among younger women, in part because of their higher estrogen levels; the hormone offers some protection to the arteries. But as women approach menopause and their estrogen levels drop, the incidence of stroke and heart attack increases.
Unfortunately, broad knowledge of their increased risk may not protect perimenopausal women from misdiagnosis. According to research by the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which provides advice, legal assistance and risk-management education to 95,000 Canadian physicians, doctors are missing the signs of stroke in patients nearly 10 percent of the time, largely because symptoms are often nonspecific—patients often complained of headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
And women, who have historically been less inclined to advocate for themselves, are particularly at risk. Research out of the University of Leeds in England showed that, between April 2004 and March 2013, 198,534 heart attack patients at National Health Service hospitals in England and Wales were initially misdiagnosed—and most of them were women. During that time, women suffering a heart attack were 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed compared to men.
It might be difficult to challenge doctors who tell you nothing's wrong, but Dr. Sedlak encourages women to listen to their bodies and to be firm with health-care providers about what they're experiencing. "If you feel there is a real problem, be persistent," she says.
In your 60s and beyond: Women over 65 have the most strokes of all age groups, but they still have fewer strokes than men the same age. However, a Danish study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2015 found that, after 60, women tend to have more serious strokes than men—and they're more likely to survive, which can have serious repercussions on quality of life.
John Sawdon, the public education and special projects director of the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada, explains that cardiac rehabilitation programs, which are free with a referral from your doctor, are the perfect next step for recovering cardiac patients of all ages, but they're particularly important for older Canadians, who tend to live more sedentary lives. These programs are supervised by a cardiologist and, after an assessment, are tailored by your cardiac rehab team, which usually includes nurses, physical therapists, kinesiologists and social workers. They can provide exercise training, education on heart-healthy living and stress counselling—all of which can contribute to the health and well-being of people who have heart problems. And they're effective, too: "Research has shown that those completing cardiac rehab live seven years longer than control groups," says Sawdon. It also "reduces incidence of another heart attack by 50 percent."
What's your risk? Ninety percent of adult Canadians have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But while factors such as obesity, hypertension, alcohol abuse, family history and ethnicity increase everyone's risk, regardless of gender, the following three are particularly relevant to women.
Smoking: While we all know that smoking is seriously unhealthy, it can be especially damaging to women's cardiovascular health. Smoking when taking the oral contraceptive pill can drastically increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. But quitting can cut your risk within a year.
Diabetes: According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are at a very high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, "they may develop heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than individuals without diabetes."
Mental illness and stress: "Women have a higher frequency of stress-induced heart disease, and women's hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men's," says Dr. David Fitchett, a cardiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
Heart health dictionary
Atherosclerosis: When arteries narrow and harden due to plaque buildup.
Cardiomyopathhy: Diseases of the heart muscle, which cause it to become enlarged, thick or rigid.
Cardiovascular disease: A broad term for problems with the heart and blood vessels, often due to atherosclerosis. These conditions can lead to heart attack, angina or stroke.
Heart attack: Also known as a myocardial infarction, these attacks happen when the flow of blood to a section of the heart is blocked, preventing the muscle from getting oxygen.
High blood pressure: Also called hypertension, this is when the long-term force of blood against artery walls is elevated, requiring the heart to work harder, which may eventually lead to heart disease.
Microvascular angina: A disease of the small coronary artery blood vessels. Many angiograms do not view the small blood vessels, so this can be difficult to diagnose.
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: A tear in the coronary artery wall. Physical or emotional stress appears to play a role. Most cases (around 70 percent) occur in women under 50—and a third of those are pregnant or postpartum women.
Stroke: When the blood supply to a portion of the brain is interrupted. This can happen when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain either bursts or is blocked.
Not just a day for couples to celebrate, this Valentine's Day practice a little self-love.
February 14th can be a drag if you're single. Or if you're not particularly romantic. Or if you're in a new relationship, or don't like holidays that focus on the pressure of big gestures. Basically, Valentine's Day can be a stressful, anxiety-enducing mess of a day. But it doesn't have to be—even if you subscribe to the above beliefs.
We're all about the idea of practicing self-love this Valentine's Day. Taking time to be thoughtful and considerate is what the day is all about—so why not give yourself a little break by taking the time to treat yourself (or if you're a Parks and Recreation fan—"treat yo'self!").
Whether that means picking up something shiny and expensive (we won't judge), need a little time for yourself (you deserve it), or want to indulge in great food and wine (everything in moderation is our motto) we're rounded up a few things you should gift yourself this Valentine's Day—lovers be damned.
With a cut-out in the back—so your hair doesn't get messed up if you decide to change, of course—and a relaxed fit, this t-shirt dress is your Galentines Day go-to (so everyone knows what's really on your mind).
Sometimes it can be hard to justify expensive purchases that only benefit you, but sleeping solo doesn't mean forgoing luxurious pyjamas. Today's the day to treat yourself with this cult-classic Eberjay pyjama set.
If escaping from the world is your Valentine's Day plan, then there's no better way to do it than with a good book. We recommend last year's Giller Prize winner by Madeleine Thiern, Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
Make sure to take the time to check in with yourself this February 14th. Do you need a relaxing bath to ease tension? Could you use a little help managing hot flashes? Pick up the Saje Wellness Women's Wellness Remedy Kit for a dose of all-natural care.
Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving. Sliding your feet into these classic slippers made of supple shearling and you won't wish you were anywhere else. Put your feet up—today, and everyday after that—you deserve it!
What else spells indulgence than a super-luxe hair mask? Leave it on for at least 30 minutes (or however long your Netflix binge lasts) and wake up to smooth, voluminous hair that will have all eyes on you. We guarantee it will last longer than the one evening too.
We all know that sometimes it feels like our girlfriends really are our soul mates. Check local listings in your city for crafty events that you are your friends can enjoy together. If none are available near you, try grabbing your girls, a paint set from Michaels and a bottle of wine.