Three Job Interview Mindsets

It’s the night before the interview. Your outfit is all laid out, your resumé is hot off the press and you’ve Google-Mapped your route. You’ve done your company research and you’ve practiced answering the tough questions. You are perfectly prepared—and you still feel like a nervous wreck.

That’s because, although we’re generally pretty good at anticipating and preparing for external challenges, we tend to be somewhat less great at anticipating internal challenges. We spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to communicate to our interviewer, but we don’t take much time to think about what we need to say to ourselves while navigating the interview process.

Even the most straightforward job interview is mentally demanding. You need to be alert and primed to listen. You need to think on your feet and be quick to recall relevant examples and experiences. You need to gauge your interviewer’s reactions and adapt accordingly. And while your brain is attempting to process all of this, you still need to smile and act naturally and somehow maintain a basic level of ease and confidence. It’s a tall order.

Luckily, there are a few observations you can make that will help ease the pre-interview jitters. If you’re looking for some nerve-calming, confidence-boosting thoughts, consider the following approaches to your job interview. Read them, reflect on them, journal about them—whatever it takes to make these concepts accessible to you throughout your interview preparation process. Along with your list of references, extra copies of your resumé and cover letter, and a stash of breath mints, here are three helpful mindsets to take with you on your next job interview:

  1. Your nerves are a sign of your excitement

It’s not uncommon for a friend or family member to say “Hey, don’t be nervous!” before a big presentation, performance or competition. The trouble is that this comment can make you feel even more nervous than you did before. Sometimes, the attempt to discount or ignore feelings of anxiety just ends up heightening them. Instead, it can be helpful to acknowledge the presence of that nervous feeling, to explore it, and then to reframe it as something positive. Instead of interpreting your anxiety as a fear of failure, you can choose to interpret it as genuine excitement. Maybe you’re nervous because, deep down, you know how potentially life-changing this opportunity is. Perhaps beneath the nerves, you can see all the good things that are waiting for you on the other side of a successful interview. In a recent study by Harvard Business School psychologist Alison Wood Brooks, it was found that reframing anxiety as excitement improved study participants’ performance in high-stress situations. So, the next time you feel your heart rate rising and your hands clamming up, see it as a signal that you’re excited for what’s to come!

  1. Your interviewer is secretly rooting for you

In the stressful time leading up to a job interview, it’s easy to picture your interviewer as an antagonist. You might imagine them trying to catch you off guard, trying to make you look dumb or deriving some sort of twisted pleasure out of exposing your weaknesses. The truth is that your interviewer wants you to do well—in fact, they’re hoping you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Take a moment and put yourself in your would-be employer’s shoes: hiring someone new can be an expensive, frustrating and time-consuming process. At this point, your interviewer may have already paged through hundreds of resumés  and conducted dozens of interviews with no end in sight. Your interviewer wants you to walk in and be the obvious choice. Consider that you are not in some sort of competition with your interviewer—a successful interview for you also counts as a success for your interviewer. Though it may not seem obvious in the room, your interviewer is your biggest (secret) cheerleader, so approach each question as an opportunity to highlight why you are, in fact, just what the company has been looking for.

  1. You get to decide whether or not it’s a match

It’s easy to stress about things you can’t control, which is yet another reason why job interviews can jump-start your anxiety. There are so many unknowns in the process (What will they think of me? What questions will they ask me?) that it’s hard to feel that you have any power in the interview at all. It’s important to remind yourself that, although uncertainty is a natural part of the job hunt, you do have some control. The interview is a chance for you to evaluate your potential employer at the same time your interviewer is evaluating you. Don’t be afraid to flip the script and ask your interviewer some questions. Ask about the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the department you’re interviewing for. Ask about next steps. Ask appropriate questions that will help you assess whether or not the company is a good match for you. Flipping the script gives you a turn at steering the conversation and serves as a little reminder that there’s more to a job interview than simply pleasing others—you’re also looking to create a fulfilling opportunity for yourself.

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In preparing for a job interview, it’s easy to focus on how you’re meeting others’ expectations of you, instead of considering what expectations you have for your next job and future employer. The three mindsets outlined above serve as gentle reminders that, despite its unknowns and stresses, the job interview is ultimately an empowering experience that brings you closer to your career goals, and your life goals.

5 Good Money Habits to Boost Your Retirement Savings

Think back to your most recent savings goal. How long did you have to save in order to reach it? Was it a concert ticket or some new shoes that took a few weeks of budgeting? Was it a big-ticket item like a new computer or a summer vacation that took a year or two of planning in advance? Perhaps you’re currently saving for an even more ambitious goal: a car, a wedding, a down payment on a home? Although savings goals vary from person to person and range in size and scope, it’s likely that your longest-term savings goal will be your retirement.

Saving for retirement poses some unique challenges: How are you supposed to prioritize retirement savings against the long list of more immediate goals? How are you supposed to find the motivation to prepare for something that’s decades away? How can you quantify the amount you will need to save when you have no idea what your future will look like?

The good news is that you can boost your retirement savings by practising the same good money habits that apply to smaller savings goals. Read on to find out which money skills will also level up your retirement savings plan.

1. Eliminate roadblocks. No matter what combination of financial goals you have in the works, this is the top priority. Think of it as creating the right environment for your savings to grow. Savings thrive when they have long stretches of uninterrupted time in which to accumulate and compound, so it’s in your best interest to eliminate any obstacles that threaten those ideal saving conditions. Focus on paying off any high-interest debt—you know, the kind that sucks up money that could otherwise be going toward your goals (credit card debt is an example). Revisit the terms of any loans you’re paying off and do a little research on potential consolidation or refinancing options—you might find a way to pay down your debt more efficiently and free up some extra funds for your savings goals at the same time. Eliminating roadblocks also means having a healthy emergency fund in place, so that your savings progress doesn’t get wiped out by an unexpected job loss (a good starting point is three months’ worth of expenses).

2. Automate savings. So your emergency fund is set up and your debt-management plan is in place—now is a great time to see if there are ways to automate your savings at work and at home. Can your employer automatically deduct your retirement contributions from your paycheque? Can you set up your online banking system to regularly transfer a certain amount to your savings account? Look for ways to make the act of saving easier, more consistent and less time-consuming.

3. Picture your goals. One of the reasons it’s hard to get motivated about saving for retirement is that it’s an abstract concept—especially when pitted against more self-explanatory savings goals like “new car” or “tropical getaway”. Take 10 minutes to ask yourself a few basic questions and to design your ideal retirement: do you see yourself relaxing at the beach, or enjoying a beautiful home and watching your family grow, or pursuing a passion or hobby you couldn’t make time for in your working years? Does your ideal retirement mean indulging yourself, or would you prefer to downsize and keep things simple? Would you want to continue working (part time or in some capacity) throughout your retirement? Do you picture moving into a new space? A new city? A new country? Fleshing out the details of an otherwise ambiguous savings goal allows you to ground the goal in reality and to get excited about it—and it’s easier to contribute to a savings goal you’re actually excited about.

4. Practice living with less. Increasing contributions to your savings goals (usually) means decreasing your monthly spending. This doesn’t necessarily mean adopting a super-frugal lifestyle; however, if that’s what you want to do to get to your goal sooner, go for it! Create some monthly challenges (like a month of packed lunches, or a month of free things to do) to see the impact of spending a little less. Put the money you would have otherwise spent towards your savings goals. If you live with a partner, challenge yourselves to live off of one income, and put the other toward savings. You will soon discover that spending a little less here and there does not require a complete lifestyle overhaul. Understanding the give-and-take of budgeting is a powerful skill, and it’s easier to cut spending when you can put it in the context of achieving a goal. Cancelling a cable package “just because” is not an enticing idea—but what if you knew that cancelling that cable package and investing the money saved would allow you to retire four years sooner? Having the right motivation can make it easier to save.

5. Increase savings along with income. This tip is an extension of living with less. Try to maintain your current lifestyle and expenses even as your salary rises over time. As your income increases, increase the amount you contribute to your savings goals. It’s very easy to slip into a slightly larger lifestyle after a raise. It’s equally easy to treat unexpected income as “extra money”, whether it’s a bonus at work or $20 in a birthday card from Grandma. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself from time to time, but limiting your living expenses—even in times where you don’t have to—will free up more resources for your long-term savings goals. More importantly, you’ll be better prepared should your income levels take a hit. Allow your savings to scale up with your income, but don’t let your expenses scale up along with them!

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The good money habits outlined above will create a routine that motivates you to find a few more dollars to put toward retirement. Even little changes can make a huge impact on a long-term savings goal that has decades to compound and grow. Because time is on your side, there is a lot of value in prioritizing contributions (even small ones) to your savings goals now. Choose a couple of tips to put into practice this month, and notice the impact it has on your budget—and on your financial peace of mind.

Breaking Up with Name Brands

Picture this scenario: you’re steering your shopping cart through the sliding doors of the supermarket, shopping list in hand. As you walk the aisles, there’s a strategy you can use to save an average of 33% on your entire purchase. It doesn’t require any coupon cutting or signing up for rewards cards. And the best part? You still get every single item on your list. The secret? Buying private-label products instead of brand-name products.

What are private-label products?
Commonly referred to as “store brand” or “generics,” private-label products are manufactured by a supplier and offered under another retailer’s brand. Some suppliers exclusively offer store-brand products, while others are brand-name manufacturers who use their facility to also create value-brand products in a non-competitive category (a brand-name ketchup producer may also manufacture a store-brand tomato paste, for example). In some cases, a single supplier may provide products (with different recipes and formulas) for a number of different store brands.

Why are they so much cheaper?
Private labels are able to sell their product for less because their marketing and advertising costs are significantly lower than their brand-name counterparts (when’s the last time you saw a Super Bowl commercial for no-name tortilla chips?) and they’re able to pass those savings along to the customer. Interestingly, even though they’re priced more cheaply, store brands usually provide the supermarket with a higher profit margin than brand names do. So, not only are generics a good deal for you—they’re also a pretty good deal for the store’s bottom line!

What about the difference in quality?
One of the biggest obstacles in switching over to a store brand is a psychological one: getting over the idea that a brand name automatically means top quality. We’ve all had the experience of being disappointed after straying from a brand-name product—but by convincing yourself that all off-brand products are low quality, you’re missing out on some great deals, as well as some great products. In a Consumer Reports taste test, more than 60% of store-brand items were judged as good as or better tasting than the national brand-name items.

In recent years, retailers have been doing their part to make store brands more appealing to shoppers by updating their branding and packaging designs, and by including exciting specialty products in their store-brand lineup. Some grocery stores have managed to build extreme brand loyalty to their store-brand products.

Here are a few strategies to start incorporating more private-label products into your shopping list.

Single ingredient? No-brainer.
When something on your list has a single ingredient, it’s hard to justify paying more for a brand name (salt is salt; bleach is bleach). The same applies to simple pantry items such as flour, sugar and spices. For produce, learn to read the signs for freshness before defaulting to the label. Other kitchen cupboard staples such as nuts, dried fruits and canned foods are also interchangeable for the most part (although it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients list to see if there are any differences in preservatives or additives that might affect your decision).

Play with preference
Take a peek inside your fridge and pantry and take note of the products you consistently buy brand name. Is there a reason why you’ve never strayed from them? Do you have a real preference for the taste, or are you buying them simply because that’s what you grew up with? Substituting the occasional brand-name stock, seasoning or sauce with a store brand can be a great way to save money while exploring new flavour profiles.

Be selective about your brand loyalty
Sure, sometimes a brand-name product will outperform its generic version—but before you automatically reach for the national brand, think about whether that performance is really worth the extra expense. You will find that some items in your shopping cart are completely non-negotiable, whereas others have more relaxed requirements. For example, shelling out for brand-name super-soft tissues with lotion might mean the world to someone who suffers through allergy season, but for the occasional nose-blower, a store-brand box of tissues will do the trick. Be critical and selective about which specific products deserve your brand loyalty.

Trial and error
We tend to be creatures of habit; as a result, it can be difficult to introduce change into our routines. Not every generic product you try will be a winner, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any generic winners out there! Instead of overhauling your entire shopping list all at once, try swapping out one or two products every time you go to the store and see what works for you. Over time, you’ll be able to keep your household running while saving some cash at the same time.

Beware of Fast Cash

Like local car dealerships and personal injury law firms, short-term and payday lenders tend to have the most annoying commercials on TV. They’re often tacky and annoying, and tend to air during daytime talk shows or very late at night. Their promises of “fast cash!”, “guaranteed approval!” and no “credit check required!” are enough to make you change the channel—and yet, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to get your hands on some extra money fast, those commercials might start making sense to you. If your car breaks down or you are short for this month’s rent payment and you have no emergency funds set aside, going to a payday lender or a pawnbroker may seem like your only options. However, the loans that they offer can be outrageously expensive and targeted at people who are clearly in a tight spot to begin with, which makes those businesses prime examples of predatory lending.

Before jumping at that fast-cash offer, take a moment to educate yourself about predatory lending. Then breathe, understand that you have alternatives, and make an action plan.

What is predatory lending?

According to Debt.org, predatory lending is any lending practice that imposes unfair or abusive loan terms on a borrower. It is also any practice that convinces a borrower to accept unfair terms through deceptive, coercive, exploitative or unscrupulous actions for a loan that a borrower doesn’t need, doesn’t want or can’t afford. By definition, predatory lending benefits the lender, and ignores or hinders the borrower’s ability to repay the debt. These lending tactics often try to take advantage of a borrower’s lack of understanding about loans, terms or finances.

Predatory lenders typically target minorities, the poor, the elderly and the less educated. They also prey on people who need immediate cash for emergencies such as paying medical bills, covering a home repair or making a car payment. These lenders also target borrowers with credit problems or people who have recently lost their jobs. While the practices of predatory lenders may not always be illegal, they can leave victims with ruined credit, burdened with unmanageable debt, or homeless.

Predatory lenders go by a number of names

  • Pawnbrokers are individuals or businesses that offer secured loans to people, with items of personal property used as collateral. The word pawn is likely derived from the 15th century French word pan, meaning pledge or security, and the items pawned to the broker are themselves called pledges or pawns, or simply the collateral.
  • Payday lenders offer payday loans (also called payday advances, salary loans, payroll loans, small dollar loans, short-term loans or cash advance loans). These are small short-term unsecured loans, regardless of whether repayment is linked to a borrower’s payday.
  • Prepaid debit cards are typically not considered predatory; however, some of these cards have been criticized for their higher-than-average fees (such as a flat fee added onto every purchase made with the card).
  • Loan sharks are individuals or groups who offer loans at extremely high interest rates. The term usually refers to illegal activity, but may also refer to predatory lending activities like payday or title loans. Loan sharks sometimes enforce repayment by blackmail or threats of violence.

Predatory lending can also take the form of car loans, sub-prime loans, home equity loans, tax refund anticipation loans or any type of consumer debt. Common predatory lending practices include a failure to disclose information, disclosing false information, risk-based pricing, and inflated charges and fees. These practices, either individually or when combined, create a cycle of debt that causes severe financial hardship for families and individuals.

You have alternatives

If you are facing debt problems, you may feel that these types of lenders are your only option. Not true—you have a number of alternatives to taking out a high-cost loan:

  • Payment plan with creditors—The best alternative to payday loans is to deal directly with your debt. Working out an extended payment plan with your creditors may allow you to pay off your unpaid bills over a longer period of time.
  • Advance from your employer—Your employer may be able to grant you a paycheque advance in an emergency situation. Because this is a true advance and not a loan, there will be no interest.
  • Credit union loan—Credit unions typically offer affordable small short-term loans to members. Unlike payday loans, these loans give you a real chance to repay with longer payback periods, lower interest rates, and instalment payments.
  • Consumer credit counselling—There are numerous consumer credit counselling agencies throughout Canada that can help you work out a debt repayment plan with creditors and develop a budget. These services are available at little or no cost. Credit Counselling Canada (creditcounsellingcanada.ca) is a nonprofit organization that can help you find a reputable certified consumer credit counsellor in your area.
  • Emergency Assistance Programs—Many community organizations and faith-based groups provide emergency assistance, either directly or through social services programs for weather-related emergencies.
  • Cash advance on your credit card—Credit card cash advances, which are usually offered at an annual percentage rate (APR) of 30% or less, are much cheaper than getting a payday loan. Some credit card companies specialize in consumers with financial problems or poor credit histories. You should shop around, and don’t assume that you do not qualify for a credit card.

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Ultimately, you should know that you are in control, even if you find yourself in financial difficulties. There are plenty of alternatives to avoid high-cost borrowing from predatory lenders. Take time to explore your options. If you’re in a tough spot or facing debt, call your local branch to make an appointment with a First Credit Union lender for financial advice on your individual situation!

http://www.firstcu.ca

Are Cheques Obsolete?

Cheques hold an odd place in our personal finances. In many ways, cheques seem like relics from a previous era. We maybe write one or two cheques a month (usually for rent or similar bill-paying situations where electronic payment simply isn’t an option). This is vastly different from only a few decades ago, when cheques represented more than
85% of all non-cash retail payments. (Can you imagine whipping out a chequebook in line at the grocery store? Times have certainly changed!)

However, despite their gradual decline in use, cheques haven’t become completely extinct. We still keep our money in chequing accounts, we still balance our chequebooks, and new banking technologies (mobile cheque imaging is one example) are being introduced to improve the process of paying by cheque. Writing cheques continues to walk the line between permanence and obsolescence.

Whether or not cheques are on their way out, there are still a couple of cheque-related best practices that you need to be aware of in order to stay on top of your finances.

Holding periods exist, and you need to keep track of them

Cheques often get a bad rap for the amount of time they take to clear. This is referred to as a holding period, and it can vary anywhere from a day to over a week, depending on your financial institution.

The clearing process itself is made up of several steps. First, the financial institution that receives the cheque for deposit encodes its dollar amount into the machine-readable numbers along the bottom of the cheque. Then the physical cheque is fed through a machine that scans its data. That data is then sent to a clearinghouse, which forwards the information to the financial institution that issued the cheque. The financial institution makes sure the cheque-writer’s account has sufficient funds to make the payment—if it does, the transaction goes through, but if the account has insufficient funds to complete the transaction, the cheque bounces.

Cheque clearing might sound like a long and overly complicated process, but it has come a long way. In 18th century England, the cheque clearing process was considerably less efficient. It involved clerks from each London bank meeting up at a tavern on Lombard Street to exchange cheques and settle account differences—not the most scalable process!

The introduction of mobile cheque imaging (also known as remote deposit capture) and other technologies is helping to shorten the holding period; however, to avoid fees, bad cheques and other sticky situations, it’s still important for you to understand what the holding period is at your credit union or bank.

If you’re the cheque writer: the holding period, combined with some absentmindedness, can create a situation where you’re spending money in your account that you don’t actually have. For this reason, when you write a cheque, it’s best to pretend that the related amount of money is already gone from your account.

If you’re the cheque receiver: keep in mind that when you deposit a cheque and the money shows up in your account, the cheque may not have cleared yet. Your financial institution may allow you to spend a portion or all of that deposited cheque, but if it bounces, you would be the one responsible for repaying any funds you used before the cheque bounced. It’s a good practice to confirm that a cheque has cleared before spending it. When in doubt, you can always give your financial institution a call to verify the status of a cheque.

Balancing a chequebook is still an important skill

The best way to avoid tricky scenarios created by holding periods is to keep track of your transactions with a chequebook register. Traditionally, chequebook registers are those lined notebooks that come with your cheques, but you can use any system that works for you, whether that’s a printable form, a digital spreadsheet or even an app on your phone.

Recording your transactions as you go will give you a more accurate idea of your account balance and help you avoid unnecessary fees or overdraft charges. It also takes the guesswork out of writing a cheque or making an ATM withdrawal—you will know whether or not you have the money in your account to cover it. Comparing your chequebook register to your monthly statements also makes it easier for you to spot any errors or fraudulent charges.

Start by recording all your chequing account transactions in your chequebook register— debit card payments, cheques written and received, and ATM withdrawals. Include online bill payments and direct deposits too—since those are sometimes automated, it can be easy to forget them. When you get your monthly statement, compare each transaction to your chequebook register and put a checkmark next to each transaction that matches your statement. If items in your statement do not match your chequebook register, figure out what’s at cause. Sometimes it’s an entry error or a slip-up in your math, but it could be an error by your financial institution.

Since we are not yet a totally digital society, understanding how to use paper cheques as well as keeping track of all of your transactions will keep your chequing account in the black and your financial matters running smoothly.

Use Psychology to Build a Budget You’ll Stick With

When you start looking for financial advice (or any kind of advice, for that matter), experts will share their take on what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. In personal finance, there are some classifications that we can all agree on: Debt is bad. Emergency funds are good. Overdrawing your account is bad. Earning interest on your savings is good.

Aside from the obvious examples, the guidelines are a bit murky; plus, the financial advice gurus often contradict each other. One expert will tell you that spending money is “bad” and saving money is “good”. The next will say that saving money is “bad” and investing it is “good”. Another might tell you that there are some “bad” investments and some forms of “good” debt.

If you’re waging an inner battle of good vs. bad every time you whip out your credit card or peek at your monthly bank statement, it’s probably time to give your views on budgeting a shakeup. Start by losing the desire to classify everything as “good” and “bad”. There are good and bad ways to spend money, just as there are good and bad ways to save it. Following that logic, there are good and bad ways to budget.

A good budget is one that, quite simply, works for you. It allows you to meet your needs and plan for your goals, and—most importantly—it motivates you to keep on budgeting. Successful budgeting systems vary wildly in their approach and in the tools you need, but they tend to have the same three actions as building blocks:

  • PRIORITIZE
  • TRACK
  • REWARD

These building blocks not only help you organize your finances, but they also have the ability to boost your motivation (and there’s real science to back that up). Read on to see if your current budgeting system has all three building blocks in place.

  1. PRIORITIZE

What it means: Prioritizing your goals means taking a little personal reflection time and writing a few things down. Prioritizing your goals should not be confused with categorizing your expenses—we’re not talking about combing through your budgeting spreadsheet and pondering whether “fast food” and “takeout” should be combined into a single category. We’re not even talking about what you think you “should” be saving up for. No, we’re talking about your goals. What do you want your life to look like over the next few years? Is it your dream to train for a new career? To have an adventure in a foreign country? To throw an awesome wedding? To start your own business? To raise a family? Allow your goals to be a judgment-free zone—goals and dreams are as diverse as the minds and personalities behind them. In most cases, goals reach beyond the familiar trifecta of “pay off student loans, buy a house, save for retirement”.

Why it works: Prioritizing your goals gets you buzzing about what your money can do for you. There are a couple of motivating factors at work here. Number one: by prioritizing your goals, you are asserting your beliefs and your values. You are also reminding yourself of why you’re willing to adopt a budgeting system in the first place. Studies show that you’re more invested in activities that you see value in—and although budgeting literally deals with values (the dollars-and-cents kind), including your personal values in your budgeting system is what generates determination and stamina. Creating and sticking to a new routine is a pain if you think you have to or you should do it; it’s a lot easier if you’re mindful of why you want to do it. Number two: prioritizing your goals is a great starting point because it reminds you that you’re in charge. You have a say in where your money goes. Social scientists point to autonomy as being a critical element to sustain motivation—and what’s more autonomous than realizing that your budget is a collection of choices you make in order to create the life you want?

Get started: Grab a pencil and paper. Ask yourself what you want. Think about it for 10 minutes. Write the answers down. Realize they are achievable.

  1. TRACK

What it means: Tracking your expenses means being aware of where your money is going as you spend it. This is the part where financial advice experts start to disagree again: some swear by tracking your expenses with good ol’ pencil and paper, others swear by budgeting apps and spreadsheets, and some push more unique approaches like portioning your spending money into envelopes. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter how you go about doing it, but just that you do it. When you track your expenses, a couple of things come to light right away. You start to realize that every transaction, no matter how big or how small, is either contributing to a goal or taking away from it. There’s no such thing as “buying a pumpkin spice latte just because”. You will soon see that the cost of your fancy coffee comes out of somewhere—ideally out of your budgeted spending money, but potentially out of your vacation fund or your groceries or your student loan repayment plan. The second thing you’ll notice is that the longer you’ve been tracking your expenses, the more you’ll see evidence of your progress.

Why it works: Yet another critical element in sustaining motivation is competence, or your ability to do something well. As it turns out, we thrive on being reminded that we’re improving. On the surface level, tracking your expenses helps you to identify your spending patterns and to course-correct when necessary. More importantly, by tracking your spending, you’re also tracking your efforts. You’re creating a record of your progress along with a record of your transactions. Before long, you’ll have tangible evidence of how your actions and your follow-through are contributing to a calmer, happier financial life. You’ll see how capable you are of budgeting. You’ll find it easier (and even exciting) to keep your budgeting winning streak going.

Get started: Try out a new budgeting system today. Browse the App Store or do a quick web search, or pick up a book on the topic. Don’t spend much time evaluating or comparing budgeting approaches. Just pick one and try it out.

  1. REWARD

What it means: Rewarding yourself means encouraging and celebrating your progress as you create healthier financial habits. Don’t be afraid to use some creativity when defining your personal finance milestones and rewards. Milestones can be time-based (e.g., using a budgeting app every day for 30 days), achievement-based (e.g., paying off all credit card debt) or increment-based (e.g., having your emergency fund reach $500, $1,000, $2,000…). Rewards can take on many forms as well; material rewards are the most common, but consider incorporating time- and experience-based rewards into the mix too (for example, you can list “permission to spend an entire day just vegging out” as a reward).

Why it works: Quite simply, rewards feel good. They highlight our achievements and renew our commitment. As kids, we loved earning those gold star stickers, and although that familiar achievement/reward structure practically disappears in later years, it doesn’t mean that rewards are any less effective in adulthood. By assigning rewards to the milestone of any given goal, you’re creating added incentive and boosting your motivation. When you earn, claim and enjoy a reward, your brain gets an extra hit of dopamine, which in turn increases your focus and drive.

Get started: Set a timer for 10 minutes and brainstorm two lists: a list of budgeting milestones and a list of possible rewards. After the 10 minutes are up, assign the rewards to your milestones. They should reward your effort realistically and be super exciting to work toward at the same time. When you reach your milestones, claim your rewards.

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The act of creating a budget contributes to your ability to follow it through. It solidifies your values, it promotes competence and it highlights your achievements as you work through it. Incorporating Prioritize, Track, Reward into your budgeting method of choice will boost your motivation while tackling your personal finance goals at the same time.

Keep or Toss: How Long Should I Hang Onto My Financial Documents?

Every year, it’s nice to do a bit of “financial spring cleaning” and declutter your filing cabinet, your desk drawers, and the various hiding places where miscellaneous scraps of paper tend to accumulate and multiply. Read on to find out what you should be saving, and what’s OK to shred.

Keep forever

If you’re long overdue for some organization in the paperwork department, start here! This category includes all the super-important life stuff that’s usually issued to you only once (and therefore is total pain to replace):

  • Birth and death certificates
  • Social Insurance cards and ID cards (even expired versions)
  • Passports (even expired versions)
  • Marriage licences and divorce decrees
  • Copies of wills, trusts, and powers of attorney
  • Adoption papers
  • Records of paid mortgages
  • Safe-deposit box inventory

 

Your “keep forever” documents should be kept in a secure place. A locking file cabinet in your home is a popular choice, but consider upgrading to a safer alternative, such as a fireproof safe in your home or a safe-deposit box at your credit union or bank. Also consider scanning these documents and having them backed up on the cloud (and password protected, of course) so that you can access them remotely and quickly in an emergency.

Keep for 6 years

This category includes all supporting documents for your income tax return, plus a couple of other odds and ends. This may seem like a long period of time, but it’s not an arbitrary number—6 years after filing a return is how far back the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can go to audit a tax return.

An audit is an evaluation of your tax return to verify its accuracy and to ensure compliance with tax laws. Many people associate being audited with having committed tax fraud or some other shady financial behaviour but, in fact, a number of taxpayers are audited on a random basis each year. If audited, you are required by law to provide the documentation that supports the claims made in your tax return. In some cases, additional information may be required in order to verify a claim you’ve made—it might just be a matter of providing a cancelled cheque, a receipt or a bank statement. In other instances, the audit may take place on-site (meaning at your residence or workplace) or at a CRA office. Being well-organized is the best way to make the process as quick and painless as possible.

So, what sorts of documents should you hold onto for 6 years?

  • Income tax returns
  • Any forms that support income or a deduction on your tax return (e.g., receipts, cancelled cheques, T4 slips)
  • Records of selling a house or stock (documentation for capital gains tax)
  • Records of paid-out loans
  • Records of sold investments
  • Mortgage documents
  • Medical records (including bills, prescriptions and health insurance information)

Keep for 1 year

This category mostly consists of monthly statements. A good rule of thumb is to keep your monthly statements for the current year, and then shred them once you’ve reconciled them with an annual statement. The exception is any statement needed for tax purposes—those get grouped into the “keep for 6 years” category.

  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Quarterly investment statements
  • Cancelled cheques

Keep for 45 days

  • Credit card statements

Shred credit card statements after 45 days, but hang onto those statements that you may need for business, for taxes, as proof of purchase, or for insurance.

Keep for 30 days or less

  • ATM slips
  • Utility and phone bills

ATM slips can be tossed once you’ve checked them against your monthly bank statement. Utility bills and phone bills can be shredded after you’ve paid them, unless they contain tax-deductible expenses.

Keep as long as active

This bonus category is a catch-all for agreements and contracts that are active for varied amounts of time:

  • Warranty information
  • Insurance documents
  • Vehicle titles and loan documents
  • House and mortgage documents
  • Pension records/retirement plans

You’ll want to hang onto the records in this category for at least as long as you own the asset. For major purchases, stapling the original purchase receipt to the user manual or warranty information will keep everything in the same spot, should you need to make a warranty claim. Documents relating to improvements and upgrades on your home or vehicle should also be saved alongside your title and loan papers.

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Sorting through financial documents is a pretty straightforward process once you figure out how long you need to hang onto specific types of documents. Doing a periodic cleanup will save you time and hassle in the long run, and will keep your desk drawers and filing cabinets clutter-free in the meantime!