Thursday April 24 , 2014
Font Size

5 years ago I got married, with our new found wedding money we promptly went out and bought a vacuum cleaner. It was a pretty good vacuum… until 3 months ago. It finally broke down to the point of no return. I have a cat, 2 children and wall to wall carpeting. It’s almost impossible for me to get away with no vacuum cleaner. My brother just recently got married and they went out and bought a new vacuum cleaner, a Dyson Ball. I love this vacuum, it can literally suck paint off the walls, and your carpets are a different colour after using it… I digress. They offered to give me their old vacuum, which was my mother’s old vacuum. This vacuum is the bane of my domestic existence. It’s a drag along canister that gets stuck on ALL of the corners in my house, one of the wheels is missing so it constantly turns to the left and it just looks old and beaten up. After using it the other day I screamed at my husband that “I hate this vacuum!! I NEED a Dyson!!!” We’ve been saving our money since the last one broke but we’re nowhere close to having enough to get this glorious appliance. My husband, frantically trying to calm me down suggested we put it on our Home Depot card. I thought “sounds good!” but I was going to give myself 24 hours to cool off before we got it. I figured there was no way I would be talked out of it and that we would go pick it up the next day.

Slowly as the evening went on, something happened, I was surprised but I finally started to realize this vacuum cleaner I wanted so badly was not a NEED but a WANT. I didn’t actually NEED a new vacuum cleaner, the old one works perfectly fine, I just don’t’ LIKE the old vacuum cleaner. I was difficult for me to justify putting it on credit for the sake of my temper tantrum. We will be able to afford the new vacuum in about 6 month, but the extra interest I would be charged would extend my payments to 9 months. Those 3 months of cost consequences were not enough value for me to buy now pay later. So the moral of the story, we are all 3 year olds at heart, we want what we want when we want it RIGHT NOW! Give yourself a time out before you buy.


~Nicole Olsen


‘Tis the season…find the money, lose the stress.Ever notice how the holiday season seems to get earlier and earlier every year?  Driving in to work yesterday, I saw one of my neighbours has a fully decorated tree in his picture window.
Seriously?  Buddy, It’s November 9th!
It causes me stress to even think about Christmas this early! Mentally, I won’t be prepared for at least another couple of weeks. It’s just too freaking early.
Or is it?
When it comes to financing the big “C”, the ideal time to start planning is January.  Stashing some cash each month will guarantee a less stressed holiday, at least financially.
Here are some other tips great tips from our experts that can help reduce some of the financial stress surrounding the holidays.
1. Plan how much you will spend on the holidays this year.  Give yourself a dollar figure to work with and don’t blow it.
2. Include ALL the things you spend money on:  gifts & wrap (no brainer), cards (duh), new outfits for the parties (hmm…), extra food and booze (oh yeah…), decorations for the yard and house (can’t let the neighbours down….), charity collection boxes (‘tis the season to be generous…), eating out (who’s got time to cook?), travel (can you say discount flights?), extra gas for the shopping expeditions(Black Friday here we come), hotel accommodations( we want to stay friends) , higher than usual utilities (from all the extra baking, cooking, cleaning, laundry, electricity supply to the outside display).
3. Trim your list of gift recipients.  Talk to your family and friends about how you may celebrate with them without the need for expensive gifts.  Instead of buying for everyone, have each person draw a name. Give your friends and family permission not to gift you this year.
4. Set a limit on the dollar value for each gift recipient. If you happen to get a gift on sale, who will know? You can redirect the savings to cover other increased expenses.  If the limit is 25.00 and I find something for on sale for $15.00, I use the $10.00 for someone else.  The recipient doesn’t need to know, and after all, it’s the thought that counts!
5. Make or create your gifts this year. Watch for future posts on great ideas for inexpensive gifts- like baskets you put together yourself. I love to bake cookies from old family recipes to gift my friends and neighbours with.
6. Instead of a lot of little gifts, use your money to buy one large family gift, like a new gaming system, computer, television or vacation.
7. Have a gag gift exchange where the gifts are inexpensive, funny and fit the recipient’s quirky habits.
8. We ask the kids to donate to a charity in our name. We get the tax receipt and the satisfaction of helping those less fortunate.
9. Shop early, shop the sales and if you do have to use your credit card to pay for Christmas, make a plan to pay it back as soon as possible.

10. Gift the most precious gift of all…. your time.  While it costs nothing, it’s value is priceless.
Here are some ideas.  Give a coupon for:
• Time spent with your kids. Have a play date with them, share an outdoor activity.
• Offer to cook your significant other their favorite dinner, complete with candlelight and a massage! That may be a gift that gives back!
• Free babysitting services for young parents who might enjoy a night out.
• Outdoor yard or house maintenance to an older less able loved one.  Free lawn moving, snow shoveling, painting, small repairs around the house, car washing.
• Take an elderly parent or relative to lunch once a month or bring lunch to them.
• Dog walking or pet sitting for someone.
• An invitation to your friends or family  for a Christmas Movie night; serve popcorn or Christmas cookies and load up the DVD player with all your Christmas favorites.

Remember, there is no shame in being financially responsible at Christmas. Your loved ones wouldn’t want you go broke buying them presents. You don’t need to buy stuff to make a meaningful holiday. So, put your plan in place, relax and have some fun this year.

Wendy Dupuis

I like plans.  While I can be spontaneous, especially when it comes to spending, I am by nature a planner. Maybe it’s the control freak in me.
I like things mapped out , especially when it comes to finances. I don’t like surprises, mostly because financial surprises are usually unpleasant.
I am more likely to have an unexpected expense than an unexpected lottery win. So, I plan.

Car breaks down- got a plan for that, dog gets sick-got a plan for that. House needs TLC-got a plan for that. Vacation to Alaska-got a plan for that.

But sometimes, things don’t go as planned. (See my earlier post about my big expensive renovation).

I happened to bemoan the latest hiccup in my plans to one of my work colleagues here at the agency. My wise colleague offered some comforting advice. He observed that despite the best of plans, sometimes you just cannot tell what will happen.

Hmm… he’s right you know. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just cannot plan well enough.  Stuff happens. It’s not that I failed to plan or that I planned to fail. I just didn’t see it coming. 

So what do you do when the unexpected happens?

First, accept that it’s happened. It sucks, but there’s nothing you can do but deal with it the best you can. Then, to use military terminology, withdraw, regroup and re-emerge with a new plan that addresses your new reality.
In my case, plans for retirement have most likely been delayed for a few years, the Alaskan vacation may not happen next year or the year after, but the unexpected expenses will be covered- as long as we stick to the plan.

A plan puts me back in control of the situation.  I like that.

Wendy Dupuis 

We have been planning our family room renovation for two years, diligently saving our pennies until we had enough to pay for the renovation without going into debt.  After all- I have to practice what I preach!

In August we committed to begin. It was now or never. It’s a modest reno as reno’s go;  replace an old fireplace that no longer works, replace the worn carpeting with eco friendly “green” flooring, improve the lighting in the room and install some much needed storage cabinets to make the room more functional.

We rationalize this expense by thinking that since our home is a big asset, it’s important to maintain it, which means that every 25 years or so you need to think about giving it a face lift – or at least fixing the broken stuff!

The room is small - 200 square feet. Even so, I was shocked when we began adding up all the estimated costs. We’re not talking high end top o’ the line stuff here, although we are choosing as good a quality as we can afford.  And, as the experts advise, we planned an additional 10-20% for unexpected surprises once the reno began.

Ours is a prime example of just how wrong a reno can go. As we were removing a speaker wire that ran along the baseboard we discovered water…in the walls….did I mention that this was a basement reno? 
I won’t bore you with all the details, suffice to say that the project has blossomed (understatement) into a nightmare on B*** street complete with cracked foundation, sopping wet insulation, improperly sealed siding,  blocked drainage system… and yes we did have a home inspection when we bought the home seven years ago.  Obviously not a Mike Holmes inspection!

And no, we do not qualify for the Mike Holmes show… I already checked.  Oh and nothing is covered by our home owner’s insurance policy either.

So, our carefully laid plans are now on hold and we are faced with a tough choice which involves a set of competing values: 
Pay cash for the necessary repairs now, using the reno money and finish the rest when we have more money saved; which means the project may not be completed until this time next year…  honouring our value of not having debt,
Or, finish the project now, pay for as much as we can with cash and use the line of credit for the rest, so we can have order back in our house… honouring our value of having a peaceful uncluttered space to retreat to at the end of a stressful day.

As challenging as our situation is, it is typical of financial decisions people face every day. We are often forced to make financial decisions involving a competing set of values. The best advice I can give is to weigh which of the values is more important, be honest with yourself about all the possible consequences, put a contingency plan in place and then go for it, knowing you made the best decision you could under the circumstances.


~Wendy Dupuis

I have two very small adorable children and the one thing I can’t stand is that kids come with stuff… Lots of stuff. I dread the holiday’s because of all the extra toys I have to find a place for in my house.  I’m a working mom; finding time to clean my house is hard enough.  I want to spend as little time as possible on picking up and storing toys.

I don’t know about you but each of my kids get at least 10 gifts per holiday. The poor little things almost seem overwhelmed with the vast amount never actually realizing what they’ve got. I started to notice that my oldest son would play with something for 5 minutes then move on to the next toy. He didn’t really cherish any of his possessions just use them and throw them away… disposable. It was a mind set I really didn’t want him to get used to. If he felt that his toys were disposable what next?

This Holiday season I’ve decided to do something differently. I’ve opened up the dialogue with our families about the needless, endless supply of presents. I’ve asked them to give each of my children just one gift, a group gift would be even better. It doesn’t even have to be an item, maybe even a trip to the movies, or snowboarding. Something that is meaningful to them and my child, quality not quantity. If after that they would still like to get them something else I’ve provided them with the account numbers for my children’s RESPs. Think about it,  In 20 years when my oldest graduates from University or College debt free because of the money our family saved for his education will he be thinking about the Lightning McQueen toy he got for his 5th birthday or the incredible gift he just received from everyone that loves him.

~ Nicole Olsen

So this year I turned 31. Not a milestone year but another one none the less. My birthdays up until now have been very exciting, usually a party or two, a dinner and lots of indulgences; This year not so much. I got a little bit of money as gifts this year and had planned to spend it solely on myself. I was imagining the manicure I wanted to get on Friday and that new pair of runners I scoped out at the mall. Let’s face it, as a working mother of two with a house and two cars it’s pretty difficult to come up with a little extra cash to spend on myself.
Well low and behold life had other plans…

On my way to work, responsibly car pooling by the way, I might have been speeding a bit, and of course there happened to be a police officer near by. I got hit with a $110 speeding ticket.

I thought “No problem, I’m sure I budgeted for this right?”



I put aside money for repairs and licensing but nothing for that speeding/parking ticket.
Now I have a new item to add to my budget for the “just in case” and this year I bought myself a shiny new speeding ticket for my birthday.

~ Nicole Olsen

2010 has been an exciting year for Financial Fitness. Operating in the community for over 40 years, the agency formerly known as Credit Counselling Services successfully rebranded as Financial Fitness in 2009 expanding  its core mission of helping Sarnians manage their money to include a new Financial Coaching program.  In early 2010, the counsellors completed an in-depth 5-program series through the renowned Coach Training Institute.  This specialized training has allowed them to take the client-counsellor relationship to a completely different level and to successfully coach individuals toward their goals
The coaching process is a dynamic and unique perspective designed to help clients gain awareness of their goals and values, and understand the choices they make with their money.  “Coaching is one investment that is guaranteed to pay big dividends, and improve your financial health.  A coach can work with you to improve your overall financial well being, so you can stop sweating about money,” advises Wendy Dupuis, the agency’s Executive Director.  “From a counselling perspective, we’re not to give answers, but to bring out the resourcefulness that people all have inside them,” Joanna Marks offers about coaching.  “It is looking towards the future, while understanding what choices were made in the past.” 
Through coaching, clients can expect to gain knowledge of the fundamentals of good money management and learn how to have more financial balance and stability in their life. 
 Whether you’re in need of some perspective on your current financial situation or looking for an alternate way to pay back debt, the coaches at Financial Fitness listen to you and review your options.  The counsellors are accredited through the Canadian Association of Credit Counsellors and are Qualified Insolvency Counsellors.  For more information on any of our programs, please call us in Sarnia at 519-542-1130 or in Windsor, 519-258-2030 and book your appointment.

~ Randa Roberts

As a veteran staffer at Windsor's Financial Fitness and credit counselling office, Pauline Laforet has lost count of the tearful clients she's consoled and the sighs of relief from others who have battled their way back into the black.

The difference between success and defeat usually lies in their attitude, she says. It has to do with facing reality and being at peace with their financial decisions, not necessarily accumulating a lot of money.

Read more:
~ Pauline Laforet & Wendy Dupuis

It seems like Christmas is a long way off (only 96 days!) but now is the best time to start planning for it. As much as we don’t realize it the cost Christmas can really add up:

  • Presents for 2 kids   $500
  • Presents for everyone else $500
  • A Christmas party outfit $100
  • Christmas dinner  $100
  • Christmas Baking  $100
  • Decorations   $50
  • Real Christmas tree  $50

Just these few items added up to $1400!

Getting Started
Before you read on, take a minute to really think about what you want your holidays to look like. Quite often we get wrapped up in the whirlwind of the holidays and don’t realize what’s happened until well into January. Write down the most important traditions for you and your family, It maybe that you want to hold Christmas dinner this year or the enjoyment of making dozens of delicious cookies. Prioritize what you want to spend or do and what you would rather not.

Set a goal
After you’ve looked at what would make your holidays fulfilling, decide how much it will cost. Get an idea on how much you will spend on gifts. Estimate how much Christmas dinner groceries will cost you. Give yourself a decorating limit. Find that magic number that will give you the Christmas you want but still can afford. Start to put the money aside. It’s much easier putting away $100 a month in a savings account all year then coming up with $1200 in December. That small amount each month will alleviate a lot of the stress surrounding the holidays.

What about credit?
Look at the true cost of credit. If you charge $1000 for Christmas onto your credit card and just pay the minimum 3% payments after that you will be paying an additional $971! That’s almost the entire budget for next Christmas. So it’s better to save the money ahead of time to avoid the additional costs, if you do use credit make sure you have a plan to pay it off as quickly as possible.

Enjoy it
The most important thing to do during the holidays is to make sure to enjoy your time with friends and family. Relax sit back and know that you have this Christmas paid for… You can worry about next Christmas the first of the year.

Tips for a Frugal Holiday

  • Try a cookie exchange at work or church. Every one makes 2 or 3 batches and then swap
  • Think homemade gifts. Make a calendar, photo album or recipe book
  • Consider Secret Santa gifts with adult family members or coworkers
  • Buy a potted tree and plant it in the back yard next spring
  • Have the kids make homemade decorations, popcorn strings or construction paper and glitter
  • Buy a timer for you outdoor lights
  • Suggest a potluck dinner, you make the turkey everyone else makes the dressings

 ~ Nicole Olsen

Our 3rd Annual Surf’s Up Dude Fundraiser was held on February 22nd 2014. This event raised over $9900 that will go towards our Financial Literacy programs and workshops for seniors, low income earners and youth at risk.
We would like to extend a special thanks to our event sponsors, BDO Canada, Hoyes Michalos, MNP Ltd., Deloitte and Rock Harbour Wealth Management. Their sponsorship's continue to make this event a “smash” hit each year.
Our heartfelt thanks go out the all of the businesses and individuals who donated items to our silent auction. It is a showpiece to our event and this year was the most successful of all.
To the board and staff member who dedicated their time and resources to the event, again thank you. Special acknowledgements go out the Terry Edwards and Betty Dadd for their tireless hours and commitment to making each year a success.
Mark your calendars for March 2015, we look forward to seeing you there!