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How to budget for a family vacation

Cityline | posted Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Family vacations are a terrific way to bond with your loved ones — tons of quality time together, and no housework to do! — but  they can be prohibitively expensive.

We asked Bruce Sellery for his advice on how to plan a family vacation that won’t break the bank.

Where do you start?

Bruce likens the family vacation to a home renovation in that everything costs more than you think. Write down all the costs — flights, hotels, rental cars, gas, meals, entertainment, and souvenirs. Once you reach your total, add a buffer of 10% to account for any surprise costs that may arise.

How can you find deals?

Think about what’s important to you and your family — are you keen to try a particular restaurant that you know will be pricey? Look to save in other areas such as the hotel. Hotels and flights cost a lot, so look for package deals online. Consider travelling at off-peak days (Tuesday, Wednesday) and times. Book your flights well in advance for your best chance to score a deal.

Spend on moments/experiences, rather than things.

What are you and your kids going to remember: a vivid fireworks display, or the stuffed animal bought from the gift shop? Moments/experiences tend to outweigh material items in our memories, so make the goal of your family vacation to create memorable experiences that your kids will remember for a lifetime.

How are you going to pay for it?

Don’t wait until the end of your vacation to think about how you’re going to pay for it. Loading up the credit card is not the way to go. As Bruce advises, this needs to be part of the planning process, and ideally the vacation is saved up for and even paid for before you go. Think about trade-offs and discuss them with your family — for example, tell your kids that in exchange for the amazing vacation you’re going to take, you’re not going to have any restaurant meals for a couple of months.

How do you stick to the budget?

It’s challenging, there’s no doubt, to stick to a budget when you’re away and having a great time. Try to succumb giving in to temptation when you’re faced with it, and set realistic expectations with your family in advance. For instance, tell your kids that they’ll each be allowed one souvenir to bring back from the trip. If you have a good sense of your budget going in to the trip, you won’t have to stress about expenses every waking moment. This is supposed to be a vacation for you, too!

The 7-day kitchen fix

Cityline | posted Thursday, Apr 30th, 2015

Is your kitchen in need of an overhaul? Samantha Pynn shares easy ways to upgrade the space that don’t cost a ton of money.

1. Paint your cabinets or install new ones. Cabinets are the first thing people see in a kitchen, so you don’t want yours to be outdated and/or in rough shape.

2. Update your cabinet handles. They don’t have to be expensive, just current and/or classic.

3. Swap your faucet. Again, it doesn’t have to be an expensive model, just a new one that looks fresh and modern.

4. Consider a new backsplash. You can find great peel-and-stick backsplashes that won’t break the bank.

5. Replace your countertops. A fresh, white countertop will work wonders in making the space feel clean and new.

6. Cover your builder’s basic window with a Roman blind. This inexpensive window covering will add softness and diffuse light.

7. Add/switch your lighting. It could be as simple as updating the shade, but proper lighting makes a huge impact.

8. Accessorize! Adding pretty bowls, vases, and flowers to your space will make it more cheerful.

9. Add a runner. A runner along the floor in a colourful pattern will help add a boost of brightness.

10. Create an island. An island provides not only a prep space, but extra storage too.

For more advice from Samantha Pynn, watch the clip below.

 		

How to de-clutter your space

Cityline | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 2015

From toys to magazines, from office supplies to clothes, clutter is bound to build up within your home sometimes! But no need to worry, Yanic Simard shares some key tips on how to get rid of clutter to restore order to your space:

  • To decide what stays in your space and what doesn’t, start with taking everything out of your space (minus your furniture) to start fresh.
  • Remove extra furniture out of the space, such as office chairs.
  • When you are putting your things back in the room, only bring back the essentials plus some décor. This will also help you create a focal space.
  • Try not to over-do it with artwork.
  • When you go shopping, make sure that what you are bringing into your home is necessary. Do not force items in your space just because you got them on sale. Resist the temptation!
  • When you have less items in your space, you will be able to concentrate on the small number of beautiful pieces that you do have.
  • Return the extra pieces into your room back to where they belong, organize them or give them away.

For more de-cluttering tips from Yanic, watch the video below:

Kitchen hacks: 5 creative ways to use your tools

Cityline | posted Tuesday, Apr 7th, 2015

Mixing:

Take a whisk from your mixer at home (or buy one from the dollar store), take the handle off, fit it into your drill and go! Mixing has never been easier! Your eggs or cake batter will mix up in no time.

Cleaning up:

Why not make your chores fun? Buy a baby bottle cleaning brush, add it into the clutch of the drill, dip it into soapy water and clean! You can also use this in the bathroom to clean your grout, and it can even help clean your tires.

Sanding:

Working on detailed projects can be very difficult, so why not use an electric toothbrush? Cut the bristles off of the toothbrush, take male velcro (the rough side), cut it and attach it to the bristles with construction adhesive, then cut sandpaper and put it right on top. This is great for sanding the small, hard-to-reach places.

Peeling apples:

If your kids don’t like eating apples with the peel on, Leigh-Ann has a shortcut for you! Insert a spade bit into your drill, stick it into the centre of the apple and turn it on. As the apple is spinning, put a peeler against the apple and watch as the skin peels off in seconds!

Peeling potatoes:

Snap off the end of a toilet brush and stick it into your drill. Boiling your potatoes for four to five minutes before hand will help soften them up. Take the drill, stick it into a pot of water and potatoes and mix it up for 1 to 2 minutes. Watch as the potato skin miraculously peels off!

To see all of Leigh-Ann’s kitchen hacks in action, watch the video below:

 		

How to take care of your aging skin

Cityline | posted Tuesday, Mar 31st, 2015

Why do we age and how can we fight it?
The environment: You need to protect your skin with sunscreen. It’ll reduce the chances of you getting dark spots, wrinkles and your skin will be in much better condition.
What is happening to your body internally: If you’re healthy it will seep through to your skin. Medications, genes, sickness, etc. can all impact your skin. Behavioural issues: Are you a smoker? Do you drink a lot? Do you do drugs? If yes, all these decisions will play a part in how your skin looks.

What should you do?
You want to exfoliate your skin. The skin is always producing new skin, so the dead skin needs to come off. Sometimes it doesn’t come off naturally, so you need to use something such as a chemical exfoliant or a manual exfoliant to get rid of that skin. If you have dry skin, you can exfoliate your skin less frequently (about every three days), whereas if you have oily skin, you can exfoliate your skin more frequently (about every two days).
Advance your skin care routine. Add a serum and use products that mimic ingredients that are in your skin such as coenzyme q10 and hyaluronic acid. The coenzyme q10 enegizes the skin to produce new skin and turn it over, and the hyaluronic acid locks the moisture in. Adding a serum into your skincare routine is really easy — it goes right after your toner and before your moisturizer in the morning, and before your night cream before bed.
Eat well. What goes into the body, shows on the skin. Drink water and get your servings of vegetables and fruits!

For more tips from Dino, watch the video below:

 		

Make tax time less painful with Bruce Sellery’s help

Cityline | posted Tuesday, Mar 24th, 2015

Let’s begin:

Bruce advises everyone to begin with something sweet: a reward. Whether it’s a glass of wine, chocolates or looking at the new pair of shoes you want, start with that because no one loves doing their taxes but keeping a reward in mind (the tax return and what you can put it toward) may help you reach your end goal.

If you have a little bit of lead time, start with the paperwork. Find and divide your forms and receipts such as T4 slips, investment income slips, receipts for your kids’ activities and charitable contributions, your RRSP contribution receipt, etc.

Bruce suggests keeping on top of these receipts throughout the year as they come in. Keep them in a file or even a shoebox; this will definitely pay off when you are tackling your taxes. For example, if you qualify for the maximum deduction for physical activity, it could be worth $1000 — you don’t want to lose out on that!

Should you pay someone to do your taxes for you, or should you do it yourself?

If you are unsure whether or not you can handle your taxes on your own, there are three variables you need to consider, Bruce says:

  1. Complexity: Can you handle the work by yourself? Is it too complex?
  2. Competency: Do you have the basic skills to do it?
  3. Enthusiasm: Do you not hate it?

If any of the above is an issue, consider hiring an accountant or using an online tax filing service such as TurboTax. The online services are fairly inexpensive, they prompt you to ask questions, and remind you of the papers you need.

What happens if you don’t do your taxes?

If you’re owed money by the government, you won’t get it. If you have a salaried job and they have been withholding tax at source, you may be eligible for a refund but you won’t receive it. And don’t forget about the credits you may qualify for – if you’re unemployed, on maternity leave, or have kids, you may be in line for a refund. Don’t leave that money on the table!

If you owe money and don’t file, the consequences are significant. If you miss the deadline, April 30, by a day, the government immediately levies a 5% penalty on what you owe, plus an additional 1% every month you are late.

The one exception from the penalty is if you have had a significant life event, for example, if you are diagnosed with a serious illness. If so, you must call the CRA, prove it, and see if you can work something out to avoid the penalty.

What if you haven’t filed your taxes for years?

This is the time to say, “I need help,” and call a professional. They will walk you through exactly what’s required so that you can make a payment.

Indoor science experiments your kids will love

Cityline | posted Thursday, Mar 19th, 2015

DIY edible snow (aka vanilla ice cream)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup half and half milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 large one gallon Ziploc bag
  • 1 medium Ziploc bag
  • 4 cups of ice
  • 1 cup of salt
  • a kitchen glass

Method:

Place the opened medium Ziploc bag inside the kitchen glass to make it easy to pour the ingredients inside.

Pour in the cup of half and half and add the vanilla extract and sugar.

Seal the medium Ziploc bag, and remove as much air as possible.

Scoop 4 cups of ice into the large Ziploc bag and then add the salt. The salt will help to lower the temperature of the ice faster.

Place the medium Ziploc full of ingredients inside the large bag with ice, remove any excess air and seal tightly.

Shake the large bag for 5 to 10 minutes until the ice cream thickens. Wear gloves as this can get cold on your hands.

Remove the medium bag with the ice cream and rinse with cold water to remove any of the salt from the outside.

Scoop into a bowl and enjoy!

DIY lava lamp

Materials:

  • a medium glass vase or cylinder
  • vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • food colouring
  • Alka Seltzer tablets

Method:

Fill the glass vase with vegetable oil, leaving approximately 3-4 inches at the top.

Pour in the half cup of water.

Add 15-20 drops of food colouring.

Break the Alka Seltzer tablets into quarters and drop them in one at a time.

Voila! You have your very own lava lamp!

DIY volcano

Materials:

  • A deep kitchen casserole dish
  • 2 glass cups
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of baking soda
  • Food colouring (optional)

Method for volcano:

Place one glass cup inside the casserole dish to catch the mess.

Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda inside the glass.

In the second cup,  add 1/2 a cup of vinegar, and add a few drops of red food colouring to create the colour of lava.

Pour the vinegar into the glass with baking soda.

Watch it erupt!

Magical inflating balloon

Materials:

  • An empty plastic water bottle
  • A 12″ latex balloon
  • A funnel
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar

Method:

Using the funnel, add the vinegar into the plastic water bottle.

Rinse the funnel with water and pat dry, then place the funnel into the end of the balloon.

Pour the baking soda into the uninflated balloon and remove the funnel.

Carefully place the opening of the balloon over the opening of the water bottle without letting any of the baking soda fall out of the balloon.

When ready, hold the balloon upright allowing all the baking soda to fall into the water bottle and watch the magic begin.

The reaction will cause the balloon to inflate, but not break!

Rainbow flower bouquet

Materials:

  • A bunch of white flowers (6 carnations work well)
  • Red, blue and yellow food colouring
  • 6 glass cups

Method:

Fill each glass cup with water.

Add a few drops of each food colouring bottle into 3 of the cups. Mix the primary colours to make secondary colours for the remaining cups.

Trim the carnation stems on an angle making them short enough to sit well in each cup.

Place a flower in each coloured water cup, and within 24 hours, the food colouring will have transferred into the petals making for a colourful bouquet!

How to avoid the Halloween sugar rush

Suzanne Ellis | posted Thursday, Oct 23rd, 2014

Let’s face it. As fun as the jack-o’-lanterns, crazy costumes, and scary movies are, if you’re a kid, Halloween is really all about the trick-or-treat candy haul.

For parents, the idea of their children hopped up on sugar for days on end is positively shudder-inducing, not to mention the fact that the treats are bad news, nutrition-wise. On the other hand, you want your kids to enjoy the occasion, and not letting them have any of their hard-earned Halloween loot seems downright mean.

So where’s the balance? We asked Ceri Marsh and Laura Keogh of Sweet Potato Chronicles for their help in ensuring a happy, not-entirely-unhealthy, Halloween for all.

Says Keogh: “I think the hunt is always more fun than the stomach ache of over-indulging. As parents, it’s our jobs to teach moderation. Kids should be allowed to pick a few items they can feast upon on the night of Halloween. It’s when they’re most excited about the loot and one night of sugar-coma won’t kill them. However, after that, there have to be limitations.”

Marsh devised a pretty ingenious strategy to limit the amount of candy consumed post-Halloween – she and her husband sit down with their kids and put a modest price tag on the candy, and then the kids ‘sell’ it to them in exchange for a few dollars that can be put toward a new toy. If they choose to, they can hold onto some of their favourite treats.

“They went for it!” Marsh enthuses. “Of course then the real trick is tossing the excess away rather than my husband and I snacking away at it after the kids go to bed over the course of two months.”

Regardless of whether you decide to try this with your kids, make sure that as the adult, you’re the keeper of the trick-or-treat bag, Keogh advises.

“I don’t think there is any circumstance when the trick-or-treat bag should be kept in a child’s room,” she says. “I know once they’re teenagers there is a lot more negotiation that may happen, but candy should never be stashed away in a kid’s room. You don’t let them stock groceries in there, so why let them keep the candy under the bed?”

Of course before any candy gets eaten, you’ll want to do the standard safety check and remove anything that’s homemade, along with candies that are unwrapped or look as though they may have been tampered with. If your child is allergic to something, be sure to remove any items with that ingredient.

Another way to limit the number of candies your little ones come home with is to make Halloween a two-part affair, says Marsh.

“Have one half of the night be about heading out all dressed up and collecting candy and the other half of the night helping to answer the door and hand out candy to other trick-or-treaters,” she suggests. “That way they’re still having fun but it’s not all about collecting that giant bag of sugar!”

While homemade treats are off-limits in the trick-or-treat bag, they’re great for sending along with your child for their Halloween party at school. Try these amazing pumpkin-gingerbread cupcakes with maple cream cheese icing, courtesy our Sweet Potato Chronicles friends!

For more delicious recipes and family meal ideas, visit www.sweetpotatochronicles.com.

For more Halloween content, check out Cityline.ca’s feature section here.

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