Saving and retirement tips, personal finance advice, and other money-related content.

October 24, 2013

Age a growing factor in workplace absenteeism: report

According to the most recent numbers, absenteeism rates in Canada have been rising over the past 10 years, jumping from roughly seven days lost per worker annually to more than 10 currently.

And much of this has to do with demographics, according to a recent study from the C.D. Howe Institute.

As the demographic weight of the population shifts from younger to older categories, reported sick days rise significantly, the report claims. For example, men ages 45 to 54 report an average of 1.3 more days lost due to illness than do males 35 to 44.

Age is not the only factor keeping people off the job, of course.

Over the past 25 years, the average number of days lost per year due to illness has remained largely unchanged among men but increased sharply among women. 

That's not that surprising when you consider that women are usually the principal caregiver for children and may take time off “sick” to look after them. As well, a higher proportion of women than men work part-time, skewing the numbers accordingly.

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October 23, 2013

Are you getting the most out of your company benefit plan?

If you're lucky to have a decent benefit plan at work, you probably value your health coverage. But are you getting everything you can out of the plan you have?

Corporate health plans increasingly have features that are tied to a 12-month cycle, including annual deductibles, preventive checkups and, in some instance, health-spending accounts.

Employees who don't pay attention to the calendar risk wasting fully covered benefits and paying more than they have to for procedures delayed until the following year.

For example, a dental plan may limit expenses in a calendar year while a vision plan bases its cap on a moving 24-month window.

If your plan benefits do roll over in January, one thing you might want to check is that you aren't missing out on important counselling services or potential stress-relieving perks like massage treatments or physiotherapy. 

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Food marketers taking notice in the rise of male shoppers

Women are known to be the decision makers in the home, which is why many advertisers cater ads for household goods toward them, but times are changing.

Food makers are revamping their packaging towards men in reaction to a growing trend that males are doing more grocery shopping and meal preparation, according to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal.

Companies such as General Mills and Kraft Foods redesigned their product packaging in hopes of attracting a new customer for products they might not normally buy, such as yogurt. They're selling larger portion sizes, using darker-schemed designs with red and black and also using words, such as "ultimate," for the product to appear more manly.

Apparently, many products in grocery stores don't appeal to men, the head of research at Innova Market Insights told the WSJ. "A beer or soda in a long-necked, brown bottle makes a man feel like a man. Drinking out of a straw does not—puckered lips and sunken cheeks are not a good guy look," she says.

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October 22, 2013

Uruguay plans to sell weed for $1 per gram to combat drug trafficking

Uruguay hopes selling legal marijuana at $1 per gram will put a stop to the illegal market, according to a local newspaper.

The government is attempting to create a legal marijuana industry that could start as early as the summer of 2014, the country's drug chief Julio Calzada told newspaper El Pais.

These plans passed in the lower house of Congress and President Jose Mujica expects that it will be swiftly approved in Senate. If that's the case, Uruguay will become the first country to attempt licensing and enforcing weed production, distribution and sales.

"The illegal market is very risky and of poor quality," Calzada told the Associated Press. The State "is going to offer a safe place to buy a quality product and on top of that, it's going to sell it at the same price."

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October 21, 2013

Are 'pet-friendly' hotels really worth the extra money?

The pitter-patter of paws can be heard in close to half of all Canadian households, so it’s no wonder that the hospitality industry is anxious to capture this demographic with enhanced 'pet-friendly' features.

A decade ago hotels either “accepted” dogs or they didn't, Len Kain, the editor of Dogfriendly.com, a travel site for dog owners, told the New York Times. “You could not really say they welcomed them, that is, encouraged you to bring them.”

But they sure do now.  

Some hotels welcome pets in all rooms; others have a limited number. But their doors are always open to pet owners and their friends.

"It makes good business sense for hotels to recognize that pets are part of the family," says Susan Sims, publisher of Fido Friendly magazine. "People who bring their pets tend to stay longer and spend more."

One reason guests spend more is that, unlike children, pets usually don't stay free. Many hotels charge about $25 a night, others far more, Sims says. You might also have to put down a refundable $100 deposit and accept financial liability for any damage your pet causes.

Pet policies vary widely among pet-friendly accommodations. Some hotels are only dog friendly; others have a 2 pet maximum.

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Buying your groceries online could become the norm

Walmart Canada is foraying into a new retail sphere, the world of selling food online.

The discount store quietly added food options to its website, which include items such as canned soups, pancake mix and gluten-free cereals, according to the Globe and Mail. The store typically has free shipping, except in the territories, and it's testing same-day shipping in Toronto. They could even offer fresh and frozen product options in the future, a spokesperson told the newspaper.

Many stores have shifted their businesses towards creating a robust shopping website as consumers have taken to showrooming, which means they check out the item at a brick and mortar store and then research on the Internet, sometimes even while in the store, for the best price.

While Canadians aren't as likely to shop online as other nations with 22 per cent of Canadians having never bought anything online, which is a stark contrast compared to four per cent of residents in China never buying anything online, more and more retailers are realizing that they need to grow their brands on the Internet.

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October 18, 2013

Should unpaid internships be allowed?

A backlash is brewing against the unpaid internship with many issues against this type of employment coming to light.

It's been recently discovered that if you're an unpaid intern in Ontario, you aren't protected by health and safety laws, according to the Toronto Star. While the provincial government is currently reviewing and reconsidering the law, there's no timeline on when any changes could be made.

This adds to a growing discontent expressed about unpaid internships. In Vancouver, there was a backlash against the Fairmont Waterfront hotel for offering an unpaid internship to bus tables. Another recent Toronto Star story showed that hospitality interns did the job of a cleaning lady during their internship. While two former Bell interns filed a complaint with allegations that the company broke labour laws when they weren't paid for the work they did.

Many young workers taken on unpaid internships with the number of them in Canada ranging from 100,000 to 300,000, according to the CBC. Young people have a tougher time landing a job, especially after the recession, and it's no wonder that they're trying any possible way to gain experience to jumpstart their careers.

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Empty-nest syndrome may be a thing of the past

Once that last child is gone, parents often struggle with a profound sense of loss, not just because they miss the kids, but because their very identities have been significantly impacted, suggests psychologist Guy Winch.

But, rather than haunting their children's now uninhabited rooms, empty nesters are enjoying better social lives, traveling more frequently and have more financial freedom, a recent survey suggests.

As a whole, nine out of 10 empty nesters — defined as those whose children have permanently moved out of the home — indicated they're happy and look forward to more social and personal time now that the kids are gone. 

So much for the proverbial empty-nest syndrome. Other recent research indicates that, once that early sense of loneliness passes, parents tend to adjust quite nicely to a child-free household.

Rather than pining for soccer practice, empty nesters said they enjoy having more personal time (95%); lower grocery bills (91%); spending more time with their significant other or dating (85%); socializing with friends (80%); and no longer attending school-related functions (68%).

And they'd like this to be a permanent arrangement, it seems.

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October 17, 2013

Why your budget may not be working

Got that nagging feeling that you’re just not doing enough to manage your money? You’re probably right, which leaves you with two options. Keep writing cheques and melting plastic until your money runs out, or get a handle on things right now by establishing some sort of spending plan.

A reasonable spending plan can provide a shot in the arm for many households – particularly those where there are dissenting views as to where the money actually goes.

Once you've decided how much your family is likely to burn through in big-ticket categories like cars, housing and food, then you can work towards either predetermined savings goals or emergency planning.

Here's one story of how someone ended up suddenly without a job -- and without a firm idea of his household’s spending.

The important thing to remember is that money is fungible, maintains economist Emily Oster. In reality, all dollars are the same. There is no such thing as a gas dollar, a grocery dollar, or a “fun” dollar.

So simply slotting expenses into envelopes depending on what you think you might spend may actually hinder you in the long run since it doesn't allow for much flexibility.

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October 16, 2013

Despite recent gains, women still feel overworked and underpaid: report

Ninety-three per cent of Canadian women business leaders feel they're paid less than their male counterparts and that image has more to do with their possible advancement compared to men, according to a new Randstad Canada survey.

Despite any recent gains, more than three quarters (77 per cent) believe women still need to work harder and put in longer hours than men to prove themselves, particularly in management and executive roles.

And while there's always lots of talk about family-friendly workplaces, 49 per cent feel that employers are increasingly leery of family-related absences among women employees and this has a significant impact on their advancement.

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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...