What do you do when your Unemployment Insurance runs out

unemployed man with text 2

Dimes make Dollars
How to create an extra month of living expense money on an already severely limited income

As an Alberta resident and a veteran survivor  of several economic “recessions” I was surprised and yet not surprised to see an unfortunate question that came up on one of my Facebook pages recently.  The poster stated that her sister, who was laid off last year, has been unable to find employment since her layoff, and she questioned, “What does she do when her Employment Insurance runs out?”

In the early 90’s I spent a lot of time laid off. I never had any savings and I never got any kind of severance. What I did when I went through these times was hoard away enough money and goods to try to buy me another month of living living expenses to provide a cushion.I did this in several ways. For one thing I  worked temp while on claim. I registered with the temporary employment agencies.  I did administrative assistant office work, and I was not specialized in anything.  The temp agencies would send me to temp jobs and then I would claim the earnings from those jobs weekly on my report.  I was allowed to keep my  earnings although the amount was deducted from my EI cheque,  and my earnings were EI insurable which meant that I was building weeks up that could be applied toward another claim in the future.  When my current claim ran out I was creating enough weeks to initiate another claim.

Being in receipt of EI gives you breathing space or temporary relief but it in a challenging economy it is  wise to plan for a second loss of income that may occur when the benefits run out if no employment has been found.It is the understanding that your full time job and obligation while on claim is to look for for work.  This link explains current EI rules including rules for working while on claim.

The objective here is to implement a plan to gather together enough money and food to carry you through one month of no income whatsoever if you do run your EI out.  Being unemployed is a tough situation.  I found that it always helped me to have some kind of a concrete, implementable plan B in place to buy me time.
Here are some suggestions to help with that objective:

1.  Sock away staple grocery items for future use.  Use your PC points, download a coupon app like Flipp.   https://app.flipp.com/

2.  Save every bottle and can that you have during your period of unemployment.  If you are accustomed to donating them to the kids that come to the door, hold off on the donations.  The bottles accumulated may be the difference between making a utility payment or not.

3.  Try to save your small change.  It adds up.

4.  This is a passive way of making a few bucks while you are sitting around at night doing nothing but it does result in real cash.  Sign up for Swagbucks or similar survey programs and do a couple of surveys a day.   You can make about $25.oo per month that pay into a Paypal account.  http://www.swagbucks.com/

5.  Download apps like Checkout 51.  This app allows you to get cash back on purchases that you make. You can claim when you have $20.00 in allowable purchase receipts.    https://www.checkout51.com/faq

6. If you have not missed any mortgage payments and you feel that you may not be able to make your mortgage payment after your last cheque comes in contact your bank to see if you have a provision to miss a payment.

7. Borrow money from your whole life insurance policy if you have enough cash value in the policy to borrow from.

8.  When your claim runs out you may qualify for assistance from Social Services (now known in Alberta as Alberta Income Support/Alberta Human Services),  or the “Big W” as we called it.  It was not a pleasant experience, but I count it up as a life experience.  They did give me a bit of money that helped me make my mortgage payment here and there when I needed it for a month or two.  I was a single parent and I hung on to my house with everything that I had and in the end I was able to keep my house.  I paid off the mortgage 3 years early a couple of years ago.  These funds come from tax dollars, so if you worked before you applied for them you helped fund what you are now receiving.






How to cope with Utility Rate Hikes

19 ways to reduce your heat, hydro and electrical bills

How to deal with Utility Rate Hikes

I live in Alberta, Canada.  In the past few years we have seen the costs that we pay in order to heat our homes and to have water, sewer and electricity services delivered to our homes increase substantially.  The cost of natural gas is going to increase further as a result of provincial legislation recently passed that is designed to combat climate change. I wish the government well in this endeavor, however I have concern regarding how this legislation, implemented in the form of a Carbon Tax to be initiated in 2017 is going to impact the cost of heating my home and the cost of purchasing fuel for my car.

Granted, the government promises small cash rebates to assist those families that qualify in order to help defray the increased costs, however, these rebates are only available to those who fall under a defined income threshold. Although we have only passed the first day of summer, it is prudent to examine some of the options that we can take in order to minimize the unnecessary use of  gigajoules of natural gas.  If the snowsuits are on sale for kids at Costco (and they are), then it is not too early to make an assessment of how you can reduce your gas and other other utility bills before winter sets in.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Remember to turn off the heat or AC unless you are using it or get a Nest or smart thermostat.
  2. Use a crockpot, toaster oven, microwave or bbq, when you can instead of using your stove or oven. microwave http://www.toasterovenguide.com/how-oven-toaster-can-save-energy-money/
  3. When doing laundry, prior to drying the load, remove and hang jeans and heavy items. The rest of your load will dry faster. Throw the dry, stiff jeans the next day in the dryer for 5 minutes and they will come out no different than if you had dried them completely in the dryer.
  4. Don’t run the dry cycle on the dishwasher, open the door and let the dishes to air dry.
  5.  Don’t leave the water running while you brush teeth or when your are working at cleaning up in  the kitchen or bathroom.
  6. Unplug unnecessary items like chargers, lamps and other electric appliances not in active use (energy vampires). http://energy.gov/articles/are-energy-vampires-sucking-you-dry
  7. Turn your lights off when not in use, or install dimmers or timers.
  8. If your house is often cold or you live in a cold climate and have a fireplace in your living room or family room, consider reducing the thermostat for the rest of the home and have your fireplace provide heat for the room that most of the family is spending time in.  I can heat the whole main floor of my home using my gas fireplace.  I have a blower fan but I rarely even use that.  A wood stove is a good heat source as well.
  9. Check and replace worn weatherstripping.
  10. Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees.
  11. Change furnace and AC filters and check to see if you can purchase reusable ones
  12. If you are replacing your toilets, choose low flow.  Currently as long as toilets are purchased prior to August of 2016, the City of Calgary is offering a  $50.00 rebate for low flow toilet purchases.  http://www.cityofcalgaryrebate.com/calgary/house.aspx
  13. Check for leaky toilets using dye.  http://www.conserveh2o.org/water-lost-toilet-leaks
  14. if you have to run your tap to get hot water, fill a jug and put it in the fridge for cold drinking water or fill containers for watering plants
  15. Do your laundry in cold water and only do full loads, or ensure that the cycle setting is appropriate for the size of the load.
  16. Create a cash envelope for utilities payments.  Insert the amount of money that you used for you last payment.  Use the money in this envelope to pay your next month bill, and refill the envelope monthly as part of your budgeting plan.  If there is a surplus of money in the envelope keep it and to use toward payments in winter months when the bill is likely to be higher.
  17. Call your utilities suppliers to see if there are rates that will work better for you.  There are different plans offered by different utility suppliers and the plan that you are on may not be optimal for you.
  18. If you have a hot tub ensure that you have an insulated heat retaining cover, a floating thermal blanket, and a fence or windbreak that will prevent wind from reducing the temperature of the water.  Also a reduction of the temperature of the tub may not be noticeable but will save money. http://www.spadepot.com/energy-conservation.htm
  19. And finally if for nothing more than a bit of levity, there is always this method for saving water: http://www.providencejournal.com/zz/shareable/20160621/math-does-peeing-in-shower-save-water



Dollar Store Deals

Name Brand or Dollar Store Brand
Facial Cleansing towellettes

We all have things that we consider to be “essentials”.   This is a price comparison of facial towellettes. Arguably, washing your face can accomplished with a facecloth and soap, but many of us have become reliant on pre-packaged towelettes purchased at the drugstore.  They are quick and handy to use  The usual supply is a one month package of about 30 of these wipes. There are many varieties available, mostly offered by well know cosmetic makers and they cost about $8.00 -$13.00 per package.

olay montage

Available at Walmart Olay Regenerist $12.56 for 30 wipes

I have not tried these.  They sell for $12.56 for 30 towellettes.

ks photoshopped

Kirkland Signature $15.99 for 150 wipes

These are great.  There are 5 individual packages in the box for $15.99.  They come from Costco  and they are very good product.  A box of these costs $15.99 and there are 5 packages in the box, for a total of 150 towelettes.  All in all it is a good deal and a good product – if you have $15.99 to spend.

good facewipes

Purchased at Dollarama  for $1.25 for 25 wipes

If you don’t have $15.99 to spend on a bulk purchase the facial cleansing towelettes above $1.25 for a package of 25 and are available at Dollarama. Although they are not as luxurious as the Kirkland,  they are a relatively decent alternative.


Purchased at a Dollar Store for $1.25 for 30 wipes

The ones pictured above are like sandpaper.  I purchased them at a different Dollar store than the wipes pictured above but they are not the same quality.  I would probably not use them.

The Dollar store, often overlooked, can become one of your new best friends when you are on a tight budget or practicing frugality.   The Kirkland Signature at $15.99 for 150 towellettes  are a good bulk purchase but if you are short on cash or on a tight budget there is a decent product available for $1.25.

Deal or No Deal: Self Pedis and Self haircuts


spend save

DIY: Hair Do or Hair Disaster?

I used to binge watch a show that we have in Canada called “Til Debt do us Part”.  Its a reality tv show featuring  Gail Vaz Oxlade, a financial writer, who is very knowledgable about managing money and helps people that are anything but, to learn how to corral their debt and live within their means.  She also did or still does host a show called “Princess” that is about young women (mostly) that rack up all manner of debt living like princesses, usually by means of working low paying jobs, living for free with their parents, bumming money from anyone that will give it to them and piling up debt on their credit cards.

One of the common themes that I noticed in these shows is that many of the  women really feel that a pedicure is not a want,  rather it is a hard limit need.  Asking them to give up the weekly pedi is akin to asking them to sleep in their car for a week.  The suggestion that pedi’s can be given up is often met with extreme reluctance.

I understand that for some people proper footcare is not negotiable.  I am only addressing the cosmetic aspect of footcare.

Because of my overspending during this past month of March, I am back on a Budget of Austerity.  As a result I am doing my own pedi’s.


My at home DIY Pedi

This cost me nothing, is quite passable, and to be honest I am not a fan of the pedicure anyway. A tube of Gehwol Med Salve for Cracked Skin costs about $20.00 and lasts me about 2 months.  For me it virtually eliminates rough heel skin so going for a pedicure is a waste of money anyway as the pedicurist has nothing there to file and grate away at. All I really need is a cut, file and a polish change.  A polish change would have cost me about $10.00 at a nail salon.  A regular spa pedicure costs about $28.00 in my area.

Here is the URL wherein you can purchase the Gehwol product. http://www.gehwolcanada.ca/gehwol-med-salve-for-cracked-skin-4-sizes/

As long as I can bend over to reach my feet I am capable of doing my own pedicures.  The only reason for me to go out for one is laziness and because I don’t feel like doing it myself.  If you feel the same way, don’t want to do it yourself, and want to save some money to have it done professionally, there is always Groupon.  I found 7 Groupons for manicure, pedicures or combo packages in my area.

Here is the URL for Groupon https://www.groupon.com/

I did for years cut my own hair, but as soon as was financially possible, I gave that up.

bad hair bird

DIY haircut possible outcome

Unless you are a professional hair dresser or are doing very young childrens hair, I think that it is safe to say that most people should avoid the self haircut route.  A botched pedicure can be safely hidden.  It is much harder to hide a botched haircut.

The verdict
DIY Pedicure:  Good Deal
DIY Haircut:  Bad Deal


Drastic moves… Like moving back in with your parents

crisis with text

#biggest loser or # winwin

Many years ago when I was a single parent living in a small home, the economy and other unfavorable financial situations made it necessary for my mother to move in with my 13 year old son and I.  The house was small, there was very little privacy, and none of us were really happy with the situation.  More and more as a result of economic pressure in the way of job loss, rising taxes and the rising cost of living, people are finding it difficult to live independently.

You can work toward being the most frugal person in the world but the rising cost of living points to a future wherein it may not be possible for two working people to sustain one household.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for two full time income earners to pay  a mortgage, utilities, food and childcare. The best crafted budget in the world can only withstand so much belt tightening. In order to cope with the increased expenses and/or reduction in income, people are left with having to find more creative means of meeting their needs.  Either you need to bring in more money or you need to cut expenses in other areas to get by, but at some point you can’t work any more and you can’t cut any more. I see a day wherein there is a melding of the nuclear family and the the joint family living arrangement common to many south Asian cultures.  In the traditional North American culture of the nuclear family living arrangement is it possible for two or more families to cohabit in one dwelling in order to prosper financially?

Granted, it is a suggestion that may be met with considerable resistance withinin the mainstream North American culture but with our culture becoming increasing ethnically diverse, it bears consideration, albeit in a modified form.

The culture in North America embraces a lifestyle wherein children are expected to move away from their parents home to go forward and create their own households.   Traditionally we embrace the tradition of the nuclear family. The drawbacks to the nuclear family model include maintaining large houses for relatively small famlilies, having children and then paying large sums of money for someone else to care for them while we work, and eventually paying for the care of our aging parents.  We tend look negatively upon adults still living at home.  Situatations wherein families, due to varying circumstances, have to move  back in with parents require apologetic explanations such as “Oh yes,  Jack and Jill are a little down on their luck due to the economy so we are doing what we can to help them out, and once things get better they will certainly get a place of their own.”

Other cultures, notably the  East Indian culture embrace the  joint family arrangement. A joint family arrangement consists of several family members spanning several generations living in one home and contributing jointly to the economy of that household.  It allows for money from several contributers to flow into the home, thereby dividing the cost and the work of running the household.   Childcare may be carried out by senior members of the household and elderly members are cared for by younger members.  There are more people contributing financially to the household so it increases the number of financial “eggs in the basket”. The article below provides an in depth look at what  life in a traditional joint family looks like.

It is pretty doubful that people that are familiar with life within the nuclear family could see themselves in this type of living situation.  The economic benefits are well spelled out in this article, but so are the negative aspects.  People that have been raised in a joint family situation and have the expectation that they will carry on living in that tradition don’t necessarily have any other frame of reference to compare it to, although it is inevitable that some members of these families may be attracted to the nuclear arrangement.

Despite the economic advantages of a joint family setup it is so different than the traditional nuclear family that it would be a tough sell in to those that know nothing outside of the nuclear family.  It is challenging to define a housing model that make the melding of the traditional nuclear family with the joint family more palatable to a privacy and independence loving population. It requires an ideological shift by the people affected by the change and by municipalities in terms of neighborhood planning. There needs to be housing that provides something more expansive than the single family home with a nanny suite, something that offers the ability for several families to live in one dwelling with enough common area and enough privacy for family members.

If we were to rethink how we could comfortably accommodate several families in one home, what could that home potentially look like? My brainstorming of what might consititue something that might be a starting point to an acceptable form of joint family housing suitable to those only familiar with the nuclear family  led to a housing model that is based on a retirement lodge.  If you are unfamiliar, the basic setup is like this:  each resident has a suite equipped with a private living area, and a bathroom.   The more expensive lodges may also have a full bedroom, a living room, a private bath and a full or partial kitchen area.  In all of these lodges there are shared common areas such as a kitchen that prepares food for the entire population and a dining hall that can be used by all lodge members.  There are also shared common areas where people can gather to socialize, watch TV or hang out.  It provides a large number of people shared housing and privacy at the same time.  This is a macro level example, but I can see a micro level, more suitable to a family living situation, based upon this type of model.

Eventually, with the diversity of the population and changing economic needs I see it as inevitable that municipalities will have to come on board to recognize the benefits of multifamily dwellings.  How do you build larger dwellings without compromising other services that cannot be placed on that land?   How  is parking impacted by family dwellings with several vehicles?

But the toughest sell will be to the population that is increasingly finding its family members forced to live together for longer periods of time in order to survive economically.  We need to find a way of combining the joint family living arrangement with the nuclear family in such a way that it promotes acceptance by those entering into and and by the municipalities that they live in.  Unless of course jobs are created for all, taxes and levies and delivery fees for services are permanently reduced, and the cost of all goods and services  goes down and stays down.  The odds are not in your favor if you are betting on that to happen.










5 Ways to get groceries when you are dead broke

How to put food in the cupboard in an emergency


free food

There is a lot of information online about how to save money on your food bill utilizing tactics such as  not going to the grocery store hungry, or planning your meals, or making large batches and freezing meals for later.

But first you need to get the food.  There are a couple of ways to fulfill your short term needs when you find yourself in tight bind.

  1.  In an emergency, contact the local Food Bank in your area.  Most people are aware of the food bank but rarely think that is a service that they would have to utilize themselves.  If you just got laid off and you have no money to spare and no money coming in for weeks, it may be a lesson in humility, but if you have the make the choice between rent or food, contact the food bank to get you through in the short term.
  2. The Pawn Shop.  We live in an age of consumerism.  Look around your house to see if you things like TV’s, electronics, musical instruments or other items that you can live without that you can take to a pawn shop.  You can buy the items back if you want them within a period of time.
  3. Tap into unused resources such as loyalty points cards to see if you have any options for using your reward points to make  purchases at a grocery store.  In Canada, many people collect Air Miles.  If you set your preferences for Cash Miles you can use these cash miles for grocery purchases.  I know of people that have been collecting Air Miles for years that have never looked into using them for anything.   Points may be used toward grocery purchases at the Safeway, Sobeys,  IGA and several other grocery stores affiliated with the Airmiles Program.  95 reward points buys $10.00 worth of groceries. The catch to this however, is that you have to have set your Air Miles preference to Cash Miles.  You cannot use Dream miles for cash purchases. If you do have an Air Miles card and you feel that you would never achieve enough miles to use them for travel, it is worth it to ensure that you are signed up to have your miles entered into a Cash Miles account.  This is particularly true if you live in an area that allows you to  collect points rewards on prescriptions. Safeway issues 7 times the number of base miles for prescription purposes.  Monies spent on prescription drugs can build up pharmacy rewards points quickly.  https://www.airmiles.ca/arrow/Sponsors;jsessionid=C18FFE16DAABB39C25FD9605E1908237?_requestid=4446629
    In Canada, you can also use Shoppers Optimum points for food purchases at Shoppers Drug Mart. Many Shoppers Drug Marts have a grocery section.  If you have been collecting points for years and have enough to redeem, you may be able to use them to for this purpose.   https://www1.shoppersdrugmart.ca/en/optimum-new/terms-and-conditionsIf you live in the United States, there are CVS, Walgreens and other Pharmacy store have similar loyalty programs that you may have overlooked as being a resource that you can use in order to purchase groceries when money is tight.
  4.   This is more of an income loss preemptive strategy than a postemptive strategy, but many grocery chains have loyalty cards that will allow collectors to redeem for  free groceries after collecting a certain number of points.  I am always surprised at how many people shop at these stores but don’t participate in the points programs.  My current favorite grocery loyalty card is the PC Plus points card that can be used at No Frills, Real Canadian Superstores, Loblaws  as well as several other grocery chain stores.  Points can be collected through the purchase of either food in the stores and/or gas purchases at their gas stations.  There is an website or a smart phone app that can be downloaded that show what products you can purchase weekly (based on your previous purchases)  in order to be awarded points.  I have found that it takes my family of 2 about 5 months to amass enough points to push out a cart full of $120.00 worth of groceries absolutely free.  I like to use the free grocery money to stock up on pantry staples a couple of times a year.  Here is a link to the PC points https://www.pcplus.ca/loyalty-help.jsp  Check the area that you live in to see if there are similar programs in your area.
  5. Check around your area to see if there are any other local programs or churches aside from the food bank that have programs in place to help people cope through an emergency situation.  A Google check of my area showed 5 places wherein application for food hampers could be made.





Getting back to Budget Basics

credit cards with text

Back to a Budget of Austerity

Well I am back to living on the Austerity Budget.  The Budget of Austerity is what I call the budget that I use when I am about one step up from survival mode.  It covers the purchases of basic needs, and I look harder for deals and sales and use coupons, and Groupons.   The reason for this is that  I took off most of the month of March without pay, took a 2 week  vacation, purchased a new king sized bed, attended a convention and co-hosted a party of 100 people.  I had enough money saved in anticipation of March, but did end up digging into my savings to pay for some of it, and all of it I paid for with my credit card in order to collect travel points.  I am not favorable toward carrying a balance though and as of last week I had some work to do in order to pay off my credit card and money that I had taken from my line of credit before there was any opportunity for interest charges to kick in.

credit cards

In order to pay off my credit card and take my line of credit to  a zero balance I lent myself money from a retirement savings account which I use as my emergency fund.  I still have enough money in the account to carry me through at least 3 months of income loss. I am not suggesting that people deplete their emergency funds to make frivolous purchases. The vacation, party, conference and new bed purchase were not an emergency situation – they  fit the category of wants, not needs.  However, I will not carry credit card debt or keep my line of credit in an interest incurring state and I needed a way to pay them down, so I lent myself the money to pay off the frivolity.

bank loan

In order to pay off my the outstanding balances on my credit cards and line of credit I borrowed money from my emergency fund.  This is a registered retirement savings account. It is not my retirement fund, it is a place that I put money in order to defer taxes and it functions as my emergency fund. As with any loan,  I need to pay back my loan that I took from my registered fund. Because it is a registered plan, the government withheld 10% for taxes. I received exactly enough to pay off my credit card and my line of credit.

Now I need to pay back the loan and I need to have the money back in the account by Feb 28, 2017.  In order to do this I have added  $150.00 per month to my regular monthly budget to deposit back into the fund. I will roll in monies from my biannual work bonus into it as well.  By doing this I will be able to repay the loan, I will not have to pay any taxes on the cashed in registered retirement monies at tax time, the money will be back in my account, and I will not have paid any interest on the purchases.  Again, this retirement fund is not the monies that I will use for my retirement, it is monies that I keep as an emergency fund, and I still have enough money in it to satisfy my emergency fund requirements.  The last time that I borrowed from this account, I used the monies to pay off the $18,000 remaining balance of a mortgage loan on  property that I own.  I paid off that mortgage 3 years early, freeing myself of a $667.00 monthly mortgage payment.  That was one of the things that I did that allowed me to cut from full to part time employment.

Over time, it is easy to become complacent with your money and to deviate from your budget, particularly if you have come through an income loss and have adjusted to the financial revisions of that income reduction. This is what happened to me this spring.  I thoroughly researched  my finance my vacation,and all of the other things that I spent money on in order to get the best deals possible. It is obviously not something that I would have been able to do in a financial crisis mode. After a crisis period subsides and you learn to creatively to modify the means that you use  meet your needs, a complacency can set in.  It’s like cheating on your diet.  Whether it’s a small cheat or a big cheat, it’s best to have a plan for getting back on budget.