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|Guest Post: Making the Most of Your Grocery Budget |
|by FCNB on |
| |Guest Post: Making the Most of Your Grocery Budget
You don’t have to look very far to see articles about the rising costs of food, and you don’t have to listen in on too many conversations to hear someone griping about what to make for dinner. Enter meal planning! You can greatly reduce your grocery bill by planning your meals based on what’s on sale. Not only will it save you money, but it can save your sanity! No more 5pm stops at the grocery store, no more standing in front of the fridge looking for inspiration, no more sticker shock at the checkout. With a few steps, you can make a meal plan that works for your family, your preferences, your schedule, and your budget. (Don’t have one? Try our free budget tool!)
Set Yourself Up for Success
Like anything, you have to set yourself up for success. Don’t try to make your meal plan moments before going to the store, or with kids running around. Begin with minimal distractions.
Have your calendar in front of you. Do you need to plan dinner each night this week, or is there a night you already have other plans? Is there an evening you will be in a rush (meeting, sports, etc.) and you’ll need a quick meal? Is there a night where one or more people will be missing from the dinner table, and you could make a smaller meal? Plan for your own real life.
Check the fridge. What do you already have on hand that you’d like to work into your menu? Maybe you have some fresh items you need to use in the next couple of days. Similarly, check the freezer & pantry for items you have on hand.
If you can purchase various cuts of meat when they are deeply discounted, stock the freezer. The same goes for many pantry staples. Once you are accustomed to shopping the sales and stocking up on your own regularly purchased items, you can “shop” from your own stash before going to the store.
Read the Flyers
Look through the flyers: the paper ones that have been thrown in your driveway, the ones posted online, or use an app like Flipp. You are looking for the biggest bargains, often called the “loss leaders”, which are items priced near or below cost to bring you into the store. Those items are generally posted on the front and back covers of the flyers. Brainstorm ways to use those deeply discounted items along with what you already have at home to make your main meals. If you can get some of your regularly purchased items at significantly lower prices, consider stocking up to avoid paying regular price in the coming weeks.
Be Prepared for Change
It’s ideal to have your menu plan and grocery list on the same page so you can edit at the store. When you’re shopping, some list items may be out of stock or look bad. If you have your menu plan with your list, you can rearrange a few things and re-plan. In the same vein, if you find an amazing in-store special, change one of your meals to use that new key ingredient if you can get it for a bargain.
You may also make changes once the week has begun, if you get a last minute invitation to join someone else for dinner at home or at a restaurant. Having a meal plan doesn’t need to be boring: your meal plan can (and should) be a living document.
Waste Not, Want Not
If you’re going to stock up on clearance items, properly freezing and storing them is important. It’s not a deal if you end up wasting it!
Many items are best flash frozen, by placing them on a baking sheet so they are frozen individually, not stuck together. Once frozen, they can be transferred to a freezer bag or another container as needed.
- Flash freeze burgers, sausages, chicken breasts, pork chops, steaks, etc.
- Freeze cooked bacon in strips (to reheat in microwave or pan) or crumbled (for salads, pizza, etc)
- Flash freeze chopped green onions and store them in a jar.
- Flash freeze peppers in strips: use them straight from the freezer to a pan for stir fry, fajitas, curry, etc. Chop further to use as topping on pizza or nachos.
- Use ground meat to make cooked meatballs or taco meat to portion and freeze
- Freeze half-cup pureed vegetable portions for baking (squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, zucchini) or smoothies (spinach, kale). Silicone containers are great for this!
- Freeze marinara sauce flat in a bag for use on pasta, or in smaller portions to use as pizza sauce. Again, silicone containers are great for this.
- Blanche and flash freeze fresh vegetables.
- Freeze over-ripe bananas whole for baking, or broken into pieces for smoothies.
Stop thinking about leftovers as something boring or repetitive. You can easily serve most leftovers in a whole new way, which can also save lots of time compared to preparing a whole new meal.
- Chicken dinner on Sunday can become several dinners throughout the week: chicken pot pie, peanut chicken pizza, chicken quesadillas, chicken soup…the list goes on!
- Sauté a large amount of chicken, peppers, and onions and you can have fajitas one day, use it as the toppings for pizza the next day, and serve it over rice another day.
- A pot of tomato sauce can be serve over spaghetti, baked with pasta or rice in a casserole, on a bun as a Sloppy Joe, or as pizza sauce.
- Chili in the slow cooker can be served in a bowl with toppings on day one, on a baked sweet potato on day two, and layered in a casserole or shepherd’s pie on day three.
These ideas are not “all or nothing.” You need to pick and choose what methods will work for you and your family. Even incorporating a couple of these meal planning ideas can change the way you look at shopping, cooking, and dining. Once you get into the routine of meal planning, you will wonder how you ever survived without it. Watch your grocery bill, food waste, and dinnertime stress drop dramatically!
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|How to Be a Savvy Holiday Shopper… even if you waited ‘till the last minute |
|by FCNB on |
How to Be a Savvy Holiday Shopper… even if you waited ‘till the last minute
The snow is falling and coffee shops are serving up delicious eggnog flavored treats. All seems right in the world until you realize that your holiday shopping isn’t done and Christmas is almost here! Before you run out to the stores, check out our tips on how to be a savvy holiday shopper. You (and your bank account) will thank us after the excitement of the holiday season dies down and you don’t gasp in horror when you open your credit card statement.
Tip #1: Make a list and check it twice. Santa does it and so should you!
Start by setting a budget for your holiday spending. We all like to give as much as we can during the holidays but you don’t have to blow your budget and max out your credit cards to show your loved ones that you care. You will regret it come January when the bills start to roll in. Next, make a list of everyone you want to buy a gift for and set aside part of your holiday budget for each person on your list. This will help you brainstorm gift ideas within your price range.
Tip #2: Think twice before you use credit
If you are considering a purchase that doesn’t fit in your holiday budget ask yourself if you truly need it before paying with credit. Does your adorable niece really need another Barbie or will she appreciate the other gift you already bought and wrapped? Do you absolutely have to buy yourself another party dress, or will the little black dress you have only wore twice look just as great? Give yourself a cooling off period. Go home and consider the purchase. If you do choose to pay with credit, make sure you can afford the payments and have a plan for paying off the balance. Interest can quickly drive the price up if you don’t pay off your statement and all of a sudden that great sale can end up costing you a lot more in the long run. Read our guest blog post on “Holiday credit triage” for more tips on getting through the holidays debt free.
Tip #3: Do your homework
Research products before you buy. I know, I know Christmas is right around the corner, but you still have time to compare prices, after sale services and warranties. This is especially important when you’re buying big ticket items. You may also want to check out Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety website for product recalls, warning and advisories to make sure the gift you are giving is safe.
Tip #4: Always check a retailer’s return and exchange policies BEFORE you buy.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not always have the right to return or exchange any product or cancel a service contract within 30 days of purchase. In fact, retailers have the right to set their own return and exchange policies. If the retailer does have a return policy it is up to them if they will provide you with a cash refund, an exchange on goods or a credit slip. Asking before you buy will save you time and money after the thrill of the holiday season has died down. For more information on understanding warranties, check out our “Ask Before You Buy” tip sheet!
Tip #5: Know your rights when buying gift cards
People love gift cards. I mean, who doesn’t want free money to spend at their favorite store? This great gift idea will save you the headache of trying to figure out the sweater size of your significant other’s nephew but can be a disappointment if the card has expired or has been eaten away by service fees by the time he gets around to using it.
Within New Brunswick, service fees are restricted and expiry dates are prohibited with some exceptions. For more information on your rights when buying gift cards check out our Gift Cards info sheet!
Tip #6: Keep your receipts
Always keep your receipts, warranties and service contracts. You may need these to make a claim if something goes wrong or to return a product if you change your mind. It is also a good idea to ask for a gift receipt! Many stores offer gift receipts around the holidays which allow you to extend the return/cancellation period on the items you bought, making exchanges and returns much easier.
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|Have you had the “money talk”? |
|by FCNB on |
Have you had the “money talk”?
If you are like most people, myself included, talking about money is uncomfortable. We are embarrassed about lacking control over our financial situations and stressed about money. Sadly, we often pass these concerns onto our children by not giving them the tools they need to make smart spending and saving decisions early.
The good news is there is no time like the present to make a change! By having open conversations with our children about spending and saving, we will make them better consumers, philanthropists and investors.
The big questions is, where to start?
First, consider the age of your child. Obviously, your kindergartener doesn’t need to know about mutual funds or mortgages. But you can share that your house costs money every month and that you work to pay for it. A perfect time to talk about needs and wants is during those elementary school ages from ages five to 10. Explaining the difference between a need and a want will help them understand some things are needed to live (food, water and shelter) while other purchases are more of a want (toys, electronic devices and movie passes). If they learn that you must make sure you have enough money for the things you need before spending on the things you want, they can start understanding the principles of budgeting and saving.
Another great concept to share with young children is the GISS method. This method stands for Giving, Investing, Saving and Spending. Let’s look at each of these categories more closely:
- Give – Allows you to have a positive impact on the world. This can include charity work, donations and giving back to your community.
- Invest – Putting away just a small amount on a regular basis can add up quickly. Think in terms of long-term saving for a bigger purchase, like a bike or toy for a younger child or perhaps brand-named sneakers or sports equipment for an older child. Introducing the concept of investing at a young age teaches children they can save for what they want.
- Save –Consider setting short-term goals here for items your child wants. Maybe your child wants a special toy or specific outing? Have them write it down and together set a target for how much money it will require, how long it will take to save that amount and what obstacles might come up along the way. Having a savings plan will teach your child about self control and will lead to financial success down the road.
- Spend – Having a spending amount for treats gives children control over their spending choices. Knowing they have a limit to spend on whatever they want gives them a sense of pride and satisfaction that they “paid for it themselves.” At the grocery store, for example, your child asks for a chocolate bar. If you are okay with that purchase, tell them they can use their spending money to choose whatever bar they want within the price range that they have saved. Allowing children to control their spending early on empowers them to make smart decisions and to understand that you can still treat yourself if you plan for it.
How you divide and implement the GISS method is entirely up to you. When my son was little, he had four containers from the local dollar store labelled with the four GISS principles. He decided to divide his weekly allowance into each of the jars. When he got money for birthdays and holidays, he followed the same equal division. It didn’t take him very long to save up for his own handheld computer game. He was so proud to go to the store and purchase it with his own money. When he outgrew that game, he wanted to donate it to a local women’s shelter, along with the money he had collected in his give container. It was a very proud mom moment for me! Feel free to decide how to implement the GISS method so that it works for your family.
What about older children in middle and high school? By this age, many Canadian children have cellphones, computers, laptops or tablets and are interested in having brand named clothing and footwear. How do we teach them about good financial habits? A good place to start is creating a budget with them. Explain the costs per month of their devices and cell phone plans so they understand how much money is needed to have these items. This is also a good age to introduce the concepts of credit cards and debit cards. Talk about the fees associated with each as well as interest, and how it gets accumulated with credit card usage. Encourage your children to ask themselves the following questions before spending money:
- Do I NEED it? Remember, you must have enough money saved to pay for your NEEDS before you can spend on your WANTS.
- Is there another way to get what I WANT? Can you borrow, rent, trade or buy it used?
- What else do I WANT? Is there something else that I would rather spend my money on?
- Why do I WANT it? Do I want it because it’s important to me or do I want it because everyone else does? Often pressure from their friends and social media leads to FOMO or fear of missing out. This is a perfect opportunity to open a discussion about those less fortunate and helping those in need before ourselves.
Implementing these steps will go a long way toward teaching your children the value of money and starting them on the path toward financial well-being. FCNB has lots of resources that can help you talk about money with your children, including a simple student budget template, a parent’s guide to youth money management and an online game called Fortune that makes learning about money fun. Visit FCNB to learn more.
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|Avoid Unlicensed Online Payday Lenders |
|by FCNB on |
| |Avoid Unlicensed Online Payday Lenders
More lenders are offering loans online with advertisements on social media, email, paid ads and referrals. Any lender, online or in person, offering loans to New Brunswickers must be licensed with FCNB.
Unlicensed lenders are skirting New Brunswick’s laws
FCNB has received complaints that unlicensed online lenders are contacting consumers who have fallen behind in their payments at their place of employment and, in some cases, threatening to seek repayment from their employer – sometimes up to 50 times a day. It’s against the law for a payday lender or collection agency in the province to contact you at your place of work, or to contact your employers or coworkers to collect a payday loan that is late.
Some of the unlicensed online lenders offering payday loans to New Brunswickers are:
Payday loans are an extremely expensive way to borrow money. Make sure you understand how much it will cost you before considering one. We have a video that explains the costs of payday loans and your rights. It is important for you to consider all of your options to find the right solution for your short-term borrowing situation.
You can learn more about payday loans and your rights and responsibilities here.
If you decided that a payday loan is right for you, make sure you have a plan to pay it back and that you take steps to protect yourself before you borrow the money.
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|Become an empowered consumer: Make informed decision |
|by FCNB on |
Become an empowered consumer: Make informed decisions
Planning to buy a cellphone soon? Or are you in the market for a new flat-screen television? What about a simple bag of chips?
When it comes to buying products or services, the choices seem endless. A simple search for televisions on Amazon resulted in more than 5,000 items!
Decades ago, chip flavours were limited to plain, salt and vinegar, ketchup and sour cream and onion. Today, the choices are tantalizing: sea salt and pepper, smoky bacon, creamy dill, grilled cheese, taco, crispy fries, wild wings and ranch potato, chili and cheese jalapeno and the Canadian-classic poutine, to name just a few.
This proliferation of options is not limited to products. Anyone purchasing car or home insurance or financial services or products can be swamped with choices.
But it’s not just the variety that’s increasing. When it comes to financial products, it’s also their complexity. Each product has different options and features to choose from.
Too much choice can be demotivating, according to author Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice.
“Choice no longer liberates, but debilitates.”
Consumers can find too many options overwhelming because, with so many choices before them, they run a greater risk of making the wrong decision. They may encounter choice overload: they panic and avoid making a decision at all. Or they may rely on someone else to make the decision for them – like the salesperson!
Even when they make a decision, it can feel bad. They may regret the option not taken – the car with the sunroof or the house with an in-ground pool. In a world with multiple choices and the fear of making the wrong one, consumers may lean toward an expensively marketed brand deemed to be trustworthy rather than the one that best fits their needs.
Now couple all these choices with the increasing complexity of products. Take cars, for example. It used to be that a backup camera was a high-end feature. Today, car manufacturers are marketing vehicles with accident avoidance safety features that can scan for cars ahead and alert the driver if a crash is imminent and even initiate braking.
It’s no different in the financial world. Today’s growing complexity and variety of financial products and services places a greater burden of financial responsibility on individuals. These days, they are not just choosing between interest rates on two different bank loans or savings plans, but rather a variety of complex financial products for borrowing and saving. As a result, financial literacy has become more important than ever.
What is financial literacy? It’s simply the knowledge, skills and confidence a person needs to make informed financial decisions – whether it’s buying groceries, choosing a savings account or making bigger investments, like buying a car or investing in a Retired Education Savings Plan.
Armed with financial knowledge, skills and confidence, we are better able to make day-to-day choices about how to spend our money and stay on top of financial obligations. We can navigate the ever-changing financial marketplace and buy the products and services that best meet our needs. We can plan when it comes to expenses and evaluate financial information.
Getting smarter about money doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. By taking a few minutes a day to educate yourself and form smart, simple money habits, you can be well on your way to being a more informed consumer. Here are four simple ways to become more financially savvy:
- Learn about money – Take 30 minutes a week and read an article, listen to a podcast or watch a video on money matters. There are lots to choose from.
- Build a budget – Understanding your money situation. Know how much money is coming in, how much money is going out and how much is leftover for saving or spending. This will help you make better spending decisions.
- Check out available resources – Our FCNB website has lots of impartial and unbiased information to help you make informed decisions when it comes to:
- Use comparison tools – The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) has a number of tools on its website to help consumers make informed decisions.
Being informed means also knowing your consumer rights and responsibilities. In Canada, consumer complaints are regulated by different levels of government as well as non-government organizations. Whether you are buying an appliance, making an investment, taking out a mortgage or purchasing a product from a door-to-door seller, you are likely covered by one of New Brunswick’s financial and consumer protection laws.
There’s a lot to understand when it comes to knowing your financial rights and responsibilities. Become informed about your consumer protections, ask questions about a company’s return or exchange policy and read the fine print before signing any loans, agreements or contracts. If you have a consumer complaint, you can visit the FCNB website.
Taking the extra time to become a smart spender and learn about the products and services before you make a purchase will empower you as a consumer and give you the confidence to make informed decisions.
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