SkyBus #tbay – A Gondola lift for the Waterfront

We’re building more parking!

I’ve been following the development of the Waterfront Phase 2 plans with keen interest. Friends of mine know I have a chip on my shoulder about parking in Thunder Bay— specifically we have too much of it. Data supports me on this. According to the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative we have more parking spaces per capita than any other city in Ontario. We can’t stop paving paradise. It’s just one more piece of evidence underscoring that we have a car (actually pickup truck) addiction in this city and it continually erodes our livability. So needless to say when I learned that the Phase 2 plan called for the turning of acres of lakeshore parkland into hundreds more parking spaces that will remain empty the vast majority of the time I once again dropped my metaphorical burrito in disgust.

As I’ve said thousands of times before this city needs to build pretty much anything but car infrastructure. Our road utilization is remarkably low and our parking lots sit empty and rob municipal coffers of tax revenue because they’re non productive. And ugly. All we need to do is think outside the box. So here’s one way to do that for Marina Park.
Continue reading SkyBus #tbay – A Gondola lift for the Waterfront

The state of bike lanes in Thunder Bay

Context is everything

Winter biking in Copenhagen is normal, and that thing on the side of the lane is counting cyclists.
Winter biking in Copenhagen is normal, and that thing on the side of the lane is counting cyclists.

For all but one of my 32 years, I’ve called Thunder Bay home. But within the last decade I’ve spent at least 7 months in various countries that aren’t in North America. Prior to this my sentiments about home were very much fond and affirming but that all changed a few years ago when I picked up a copy of “Lonely Planet Canada” and read the section about Thunder Bay.
Continue reading The state of bike lanes in Thunder Bay

How to choose a car (the mostly-rational way)

There comes a time when you need a car (or two, but almost certainly not three). If your car-liking muscle exceeds the power of your money-saving muscle, this isn’t a post for you so stop reading. But if you think you might be able to make a purchase based solely on rational thought within the context of spending the lowest amount of money without dying in a horrible car accident, read on and I’ll tell you how to choose a car. Also, if you think you might like to just hear what I have to say and then make a decision, I’m down with that.

Hyundai Sonata
My Car is a 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited. I like it.

Do I need to choose a car?

The absolute best car you can buy from a financial standpoint is a TFSA. “But that’s not a car”, you say. Oh right. But if you can ride the bus without strenuous effort, or walk, that is way cheaper. Be honest with yourself: you don’t need a car to get 2 km to work unless work involves hauling dozens of kilograms of random crap to and from your job in the snow every day. Even then you may be able to get away with a cargo bike if you live in a moderate climate. Bicycles are a good option. In the warmer months I like to ride my bike to work on days I’m not working from home. It’s 7km one way and takes about 20 minutes. It’s a great way to unwind and get time to think and it saves money. Quite a bit actually.
Continue reading How to choose a car (the mostly-rational way)

Pensions: a nuanced retirement tool (update)

Ahhh, pensions. They can be your ticket to financial freedom. In the best of cases, having a pension is like having a job for the rest of your life without working. In other cases employees view their pensions as silver-bullet solutions to retirement and ignore their financial responsibilities. Sadly many people don’t pay any attention to their pensions or the place a pension holds in their financial future until it’s too late to make a difference. Today I’m going to introduce you to the various types of pensions and how to determine their value. Along the way I’ll touch on some common questions. We have lots to talk about so hang in there!

What is a pension?

A pension is an agreement between the pensioner (beneficiary) and the payer to receive a set amount of money (benefits) on a regular basis, generally following retirement from employment. Typically pension payments will last until the beneficiary dies. In some cases, the beneficiary’s surviving spouse or family will continue to receive benefits, possibly at a different rate.
Continue reading Pensions: a nuanced retirement tool (update)

The annuity: dependability has a price

The time-value of money is the principle that money today has a different value than money tomorrow.  At the centre of this concept is the annuity and its formula, which I will not derive or prove here because I’m the only one who will find it interesting.  An annuity is a set of fixed payments that are made over a specified period of time.  I’m going to focus on a specific type of annuity here: a life annuity.  A life annuity is an insurance policy sold by an insurance company that pays a (usually monthly) payment to the buyer until the buyer (or the buyer’s surviving partner in some cases) dies.  Sometimes you just want to be able to know how much money you’re going to have in the future and the life annuity is one way to do that.  Life annuities can seem expensive if you’re not used to seeing the numbers.  The high price is the price of certainty.  I’m going to talk about annuities in the context of retirement, but the math involved translates into pretty much every area of finance so pay attention.  The words annuity and life annuity will be used interchangeably depending on context.  Get ready to bite off more than most of us can chew, myself included. Continue reading The annuity: dependability has a price

Index investing: because average is better than most

I’ve met quite a few people who complain that their ‘investors’ or mutual funds lose their money all the time.  Some of them use this as justification to just blow all their money on boats and going out for lunch every couple of days.  Bad call bros.  Your investor may be making terrible choices (which you have allowed) but more than likely you can fix the problem, get in control and stop being such a fatalist about your financial future by switching to index investing.  Of all the potential reasons why your investment situation is sucking, there are two that are most likely the problem for you:

  1. Your investor or mutual fund is picking stocks that suck
  2. You’re paying insane MERs.

Index investing is the way to beat half of the money investing in the stock market, guaranteed! Seriously. Continue reading Index investing: because average is better than most

Investment types: a net worth and income tax example

Awhile back I introduced a simple rule of growing your net worth: pay or save towards the highest after-tax interest rate first, regardless of what you owe or own.  Today I’ll introduce the investment types with respect to taxes and run some numbers using a rental property as an example.  Each investment type affects your taxes in different ways and what you choose to do with your money should certainly take your taxes into account. Continue reading Investment types: a net worth and income tax example

Get CRA online access so you’re in the loop

One of the easiest things I’ve done to allow me to better understand my financial situation was to get CRA online access (the CRA is the Canada Revenue Agency).  The CRA, through a service called “My Account”, allows you get pretty much all of the paper information you’d get from them automatically but online, accurate, up to date and securely.  And it’s free.

Here are a few things you can do with CRA online access:

  1. See your unused RRSP and TFSA contribution room
  2. See your previous notices of assessment and reassessment
  3. See your T4 / T4s and other tax slips
  4. Modify your previous tax returns returns
  5. Change your address, apply for child benefits or arrange direct deposit

CRA online access mitigates your laziness

I know what you’re thinking already.  Boring!  “Why the heck would I want any more information than what they already mail me, Dean?”  I’ll tell you.  Because you won’t get wealthy by burying your head in the sand and because you’re lazy like me.  Imagine you’ve received your income tax refund (or paid income tax owing) and then you realize you missed a deduction worth $15.  The average person wouldn’t ‘waste’ the time filing it.  That’s lame.  It’s $15!! If you found that much money on the side of the road you’d pick it up.  If someone told you to hold their toothbrush for 10 minutes and then they’d give you $15, you’d probably do it.  Well with CRA online access it takes about 10 minutes to modify your tax return.  Or 3 minutes to change your address when you move so that your cheques will arrive on time (still using cheques?  Get direct deposit with CRA online access!).  Plus it doesn’t increase paperwork for anyone because it’s all online.   Yada dada.

Look, I’m making a big deal out of this.  But as you read more of my stuff you’ll start to see a recurring theme: small things make all the difference.

Backup your computer before it backs you up

This one time I was walking down the street with my laptop in hand.  A crazy dude pointed a gun at me from across the street and I instinctively lifted my laptop to stop the bullet.  Fortunately I was fine and the perp was apprehended but my laptop was devastated.  Ok, this didn’t actually happen.  But things with similar effects happen every day, and that’s why I’ve been backing up everything for the past few years.  I use a service called Backblaze because they’re cheap, reliable and tech-savvy, but we’ll get to that in a second. Continue reading Backup your computer before it backs you up

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