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Imagination vs. lying: When children cross the line

Cityline | posted Thursday, Aug 20th, 2015

Are you concerned that your child’s imagination could possibly get them into trouble? Nanny Robina talks all about when a child’s imagination might cause some problems and what to do if your child starts lying.

Save money on back-to-school shopping

Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Special to MoneySense | posted Tuesday, Aug 18th, 2015

money-featured

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Shop the sales

Make your dollar go a lot further by gathering up the flyers and doing a little prep work. Involve the kids by giving them a budget for their school supplies and having them figure out how they’ll spend their money for pens, paper and all the other stuff they’ll need.

Do an inventory 
Make a list of what your child has and what he needs before you head out to the stores. If last year’s jacket still fits that’s one less expense.

Stick to your guns about what you can afford to spend
Even if she HAS to have those jeans, you can say “No.” She won’t break. You could, of course, allow her to upgrade using her own money to make up the difference between what you’re prepared to spend and the brand she absolutely has to have.

Budget for extra-curricular expenses
The extras such as sports equipment, music books and the like often get left off the list. You’ll likely have to come up with extra money during those first few weeks of school to cover all sorts of activities so don’t spend it all when you’re shopping.

Show your children your budget 
You want them to have realistic expectations before you head to the stores. Many parents hate to talk about money with their kids. And they’re dead set against disclosing the realities of their financial circumstances. Then they get ticked when their children don’t show sufficient appreciation for how hard they have had to work to provide those no-name jeans.

Well, if you don’t tell ‘em, how are they supposed to know? Being smart about money isn’t intuitive. It’s learned. And you are your children’s most influential teachers … of both good habits and bad.

Backpack hacks: your list of essentials

Cityline | posted Thursday, Aug 27th, 2015

kids

Apart from the notebooks and binders, what else does your child need to have packed when walking through the classroom door? These backpack essentials are items you might not think of at first, but can be incredibly useful for your child throughout the year. Keep in mind that you don’t want to overload the backpack to the point where it gets too heavy! Look for the following items in travel-sized packages, and bring your kids with you when you shop so they can pick out their favourite colours.

Tissues: Not only are tissues great for cold season, they can also be used for cleaning up spills or when your child’s allergies act up. Look for travel packs at your local drugstore or grocery store.

Hand sanitizer: Everyone knows that germs spread quick, especially at school. Apart from making sure your kids are washing their hands, give them a travel-sized hand sanitizer for the bus or for field trips.

Pencil case: This one is inevitable for school! Make sure you aren’t forgetting a pencil sharpener or extra lead if need be.

Emergency change: It might be a good idea to pack an emergency change pouch, in case your child runs out of bus tickets or forgets their lunch at home.

Hair elastics: Extra hair elastics are useful for pulling your hair back for gym class, keeping together loose Tupperware, or as a makeshift key chain in case your child’s breaks.

EpiPen: If your children have allergies, make sure they have an EpiPen on hand, or any other medications they may need to take at school.

Water bottle: Drinking water is important for your daily health! Pack a water bottle for your child to help promote drinking water regularly (plus, a reusable bottle is the best choice for the environment!).

Do you have a backpack essential not listed here? Post it in the comments below!

10 healthy school lunch ideas

Today's Parent | posted Tuesday, Aug 25th, 2015

Snack

This lunch combines two of kids’ loves: waffles and bacon for one surprising sandwich. When packing, place pieces of waxed paper or foil between all layers to keep them fresh and wrap sandwich in parchment. Pack mayo separately in its own mini squirt bottle. Before eating, remove waxed paper or foil and squirt mayo onto waffle.

Get the recipe: BLT Waffle-Wich> 

Bet you didn’t know how easy it is to make your own fruit leather. With only four simple ingredients, this one is more nutritious and super fun to pack.

Get the recipe: Blueberry-Apple Fruit Leather>

For more healthy school lunch ideas click here.

How to keep your pets safe outdoors

Cityline | posted Thursday, Aug 13th, 2015

Dog

Veterinarian to the stars Dr. Jeff Werber knows how important it is to keep your pets safe, especially in the summer heat! Check out his tips for keeping your furry friends protected while outside.

 

15 ways to save money on just about everything

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

Cheap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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