2011 Monthly Expenses Assessment... Part 3... Groceries, Gas, and Reward Points

So in my last post, I found reviewing our monthly household basic expenses excluding groceries and gasoline, I was unable to really make a dent in saving more money unless I changed up the services and packages or completely eliminating the service altogether.

I did manage to eke out a few dollars updating existing packages in cable and phone services just by cancelling some items we do not find we are using to justify paying for it monthly. From Shaw Cable, I saved $27.95 per month by eliminating movie channels, misc. channels, and time change channels; with Telus, I saved $30.00 per month by updating my high speed internet service and cancelling add-on features like voice messaging and long distance minutes. An annual savings of $695.40 just by eliminating services we were not using much of anyways!

Hardly the $643.80 PER MONTH I was looking for... but a further look at the monthly bills and some research on the Net, I noticed was paying what everyone else was paying on most of my bills taking in account for the increases over the years; and finding more savings out of these bills would involve cancelling the service altogether.

Because of inflation and the increase of more services being used, the budgeting will now have to come out of the groceries and gasoline portion of expenses. I look at these as separate from the other expenses as these two are variable: the prices fluctuate monthly due to market conditions and /or consumption levels. I am able to spend more or less on any given week..ie. stocking up on something when it is in season or on sale; or hold off buying altogether when the paycheque doesn't allow for the spending.

In researching this area of expenditure, I discovered Max Satanove's Edmonton Food Basket- a weekly comparison of locals grocers in the Edmonton area that appeared in the Edmonton Examiner for 18 years is now gone! Mr. Satenove passed away January 27, 2009 and ended his column when he stopped driving at 90 years old... for years my wife and I used that weekly column to glance where the best deals or cheapest grocery prices were... He provided a really valuable service for us consumers especially when we were spending in the $1000 range every month! And from his weekly chart, he showed that Superstore, week after week, was the clear winner in terms of price for a cart compared to Save-On Foods, Sobey's, and Safeway in the Edmonton area. RIP Mr. Satanove. I miss you already.

Following in his tradition, I have found, CTV Calgary does a monthly segment comparing prices at major Calgary grocery stores, Superstore, Sobey's, Safeway, and Co-op. Calgary, according to various websites like Numbeo.com suggest Edmonton is on par with Calgary when it comes to grocery prices.. some may vary but it balances out when it is items are compared by the cart.
See this month's grocery comparison chart here.

As with Max's Food Basket column in the weekly Edmonton Examiner, we see Superstore topping the other grocers by price comparison in CTV's Calgary grocery comparison. But, what about comparisons with Costco and Walmart?

From our own experience over the years, we too have found you get more of a cart-full of groceries at Superstore than anywhere else. Fresh produce is better quality at Save-on and Safeway while prices do reflect that. Superstore is still the king for non-perishables. Costco and Sobey's and IGA (when on sale) is better for meat purchases. Diapers and other baby necessities, condiments, snacks at Walmart are comparable to Superstore's prices. Though, I've found though Walmart may seem cheaper in price, quality and portion sizing is greatly reduced compared to Costco. Safeway always seems to be the most expensive but time to time they have some good flyer specials and customer appreciation Tuesdays (15% off 1st Tuesday of every month).

Over the past year, we have spent more time at Costco: the Superstore near we live, since their store renovations, had lowered their quality and the coupons are not as good as they were 2 years prior. We had always gone to Superstore for its free $25 gift card for spending $200; now it's a free $25 gift card for spending $250... Costco's pricing is pretty much on par with Superstore when buying meat, cleaning supplies, and other food staples and the return policy is second to none! Plus, the bulk sizing at Costco saves the consumer big time in terms of price per unit comparisons.

In our search to find more savings every week to cut back on our monthly expenses, we've found it is best to shop at different grocers and watch the flyers every week- something we have not done consistently in the last 2 years out of convenience of Costco— your one-stop shop to get most groceries, get gasoline and feed your kids with samples! Caution: Costco is not a good place to pick up only a couple of items...for some reason though prices are on par or cheaper with everywhere else on a per unit basis, one finds himself spending a lot more than planned... ie. went into Costco for peanut butter; came out with $350 worth of other stuff..and who can eat that much peanut butter??

When buying gasoline in Edmonton, it is best to shop around too. Using EdmontonGasPrices.com is a great way to find out who has the cheapest gas in our city. You will find Costco also tops the list for gas savings too- usually a 5 cent per litre difference in prices than anywhere else! Finding additional savings would have to involve taking more public transportation or alternative means of transport.

How about loyalty cards such as PC points at superstore or Costco Executive memberships? Earning rewards on everyday purchases is a great way to stretch household budgets during a recession. Canadaloyalty.com is a good database that describes the different rewards that can be earned with loyalty cards from different retailers.

The most popular reward cards seem to be: Shoppers Optimum, Airmiles, Canadian Tire money, PC Financial Pts at Superstore, and Costco Executive membership and Costco American Express, Aeroplan, Esso Extra, HBC Rewards, and PetroCanada Petro-points.

The top -rated points cards when I started collecting points were the BMO Airmiles Mosaic Mastercard, the Airmiles American Express, the Costco American Express, PC Financial Mastercard, and MNBA Shoppers Optimum Mastercard.

I have heard PC Financial points and the Costco American Express Card are the best and most popular for collecting points for everyday grocery purchases (assuming you shop at Superstore and Costco mostly as I do).

PC Financial Mastercard rewards are as such : Earn 10 points for every $1 spent; redeem at 20,000 points for $20 in groceries at Superstore and 10,000 points thereafter (so 30,000 pts for $30 of groceries). So for my weekly average grocery spending of $400, I would get 16,000 points every month plus additional specials and introductory 5000 points for signing up..estimate of 200,000 points per year equalling about $200 worth of free groceries if I were only to use the credit card for Superstore grocery purchases for example.

Costco Cash rebate American Express offers as such: 0.25% cash back on all card spending on the first $1000; 0.50% on the next $2000; and 1.0% cash back on spending over $3000 plus bonus 0.5% for balances carried over each month. Plus 2% on gas purchases up to $3000 annually and 1% on gas purchases over $3000. Using the example above of spending $400 per week, I would get about a little less than $200 per year for getting groceries but add gas at Costco- and it pretty much on par or better than the PC Financial card for yearly spending totals. The PCF Mastercard is better for lower spending levels as the Costco Amex gets better if you spend more.

But, adding the Costco Executive membership- annual 2% return up to a maximum of $500 on all Costco purchases excluding tobacco, food court, postage stamps, etc. (list here.) and you get an additional $384.00 for the same dollar amount spent on groceries; which also pays for the Costco Executive membership of $100. So, going with Costco will earn you an annual net of $517.00 compared to PC Financial's $200 for the same $400 spent per week.

I use Airmiles and Airmiles American Express and the Executive membership at Costco. Using the above example again I get 1 airmile for every $15 spent (on avg. some retailers offer 1 airmile per $10 spent) - giving me 1280 airmiles annually. Based on a redemption rate of 1125 points for a $150 Best Western Hotel gift certificate, I receive $171.00 for my annual grocery spending at Costco- much less than the PC Financial CC but add the executive membership, it works out.

With collecting airmiles, I find it helps reduce costs on our annual vacations. I did notice there is greater value for your points with airmiles when they are used for travel purchases like flights, hotels, or car rentals. A loophole I found years ago with airmiles is ordering hotel gift cards worth $100-$150, then finding the best internet pricing for hotels in lieu of ordering direct hotel stays from airmiles saved me 100's of points every year (avg. 400 points!). And using my Airmiles American Express alongside having a Costco Executive membership, what I do like is I get both airmiles and Costco points for the SAME purchases at once! It's like getting airmiles at Safeway using an Airmiles credit card- you can easily double your miles on the same purchase.

Back on the topic of finding more savings in our monthly grocery spending, I may have to switch my Airmiles Amex for the Costco rewards card.... and apply for the PC Financial Mastercard to replace the BMO Airmiles Matercard... further examination will be in order including how much I really save on hotels, etc. with the airmiles compared to cash value of free groceries.

Groceries by far and wide seems to be the most flexible way to find that extra money to save every year for our household. Yet, if one does not do his homework via clipping coupons, watching the weekly flyer, creating your own 'pricebook', weekly grocery spending can get out of hand quickly.

Other areas of cutting our monthly spending would have to come from entertainment, extra-curricular activities for the kids, eating out, and spur of the moment spending... all of which will have to be analyzed further this year in order to accomplish any of the financial goals I have set this year.... there's always Ft.McMurray.... ugh.

2011 Monthly Expenses Assessment... Part.2... Bills, Bills, and More Bills...

Why am I doing this? Personal finances can be torture on one's ego and mental health... as I have learnt over the years, the path to financial independence, one must learn all facets of money to be able to control it. Personal finances is not only focusing on investment but the other half of the equation: budgeting and saving. In fact, budget and savings should encompass most of the topic... the biggest reason being most people do not have the financial resources with which to invest. Many live paycheque to paycheque; while most according to the Vanier Institute of the Family only have average household savings of $2500 for 2010!

In part 1, I broke down what our household expenses were going to be for 2011 based on January/ February 2011 bills and discovered to my dismay we were spending a total of $1073.93 per month for basic necessities not including food or gasoline! With a comparison to 1997 spending of $910.13, an increase of $163.80 per month... BUT, considering we have no mortgage payment of $480.00 per month anymore, actual spending increased $643.80 per month or a 249.6% increase since 1997; that's an additional $7725.60 per year more than we spent in 1997 for basic living expenses! How much of this is inflation or standard of living increases or just wasteful keeping up with our peers? According to historical CPI growth rates annual average inflation from 1997 to 2010 is 2.4%; meaning $1 of spending power in 1997 now is worth $1.36 in buying power in 2010. A dollar definitely not what it used to be.

I use the year 1997 because at that point in our lives we purchased our home and vowed to keep our spending limited so that one of us could manage and afford all the bills by ourself just in case one loses his/her job, etc. In 1997 my earnings from collecting unemployment insurance was on par with the wife's earnings with her full-time job in retail. So, we based our spending on this: approximately $1600.00 per month income.

It is obvious we could probably eke by with no savings and no changes in our spending with income from Employment Insurance (payout remained consistent over 14 years) if we absolutely needed to today using only $600 for groceries ($100 per week) and gasoline ($200 per month). But, doing this assessment is good to see if we could do any cutbacks now in excess spending and perhaps put more towards our short term financial goals.

Our 2011 bills:

Enmax- avg. $245 per month for electricity and natural gas. In 1997, that bill was $34.00 avg for water and drainage and $37.00 for natural gas totalling $71.00. Over 300% increase over 14 years!!! Not much I can do about the gouging going on as natural gas is near historical lows ($4/GJ) and electricity is on contract with Enmax for $0.07/kWh. Floating rates are averaging $0.0789/kWh in Alberta and contracts cost over 8 cents... probably the best pkg I can get at this time. Which means more diligence will be needed shutting off lights, electronic goods, etc. within our home. Perhaps an investment in installing solar panels and a 'pre-warmer' water tank is worth looking into since natural gas prices have been creeping up and it looks as these bills will only increase from here.

Epcor- avg. $82.00 per month for water and drainage. In 1997, this cost $28 per month. Another 300% increase!! Over the years the city has added costs to our bills such as waste services (garbage) and additional service charges in sewage. Going with an Energy-star compliant front-load washing machine and dryer helped reduce our water tab by 50% over the last 5 years.

Shaw- $78.70 per month for cable services. In 1997, cable was $27.47. For the same pkg we had in 1997, it would cost $62.95 today (same approx. number of channels- Digital TV pkg); we recently cancelled a few channels we weren't watching that often to save a few bucks and really would cut the entire service if we needed to. Only reality shows and HGTV DIY for the wife and hockey games for myself and kids' channels are the only things we watch on TV these days. Services like Netflix, etc could easily replace our TV viewing. Competitors like TelusTV are entering the market and we will be looking out for any introductory pkgs available.

Telus- $86.87 per month for phone and long distance services. Pkg. includes call display, call waiting, and voice messaging and 200 minutes free per month long distance calling and high speed internet ($40.00 for 16Mbps). In 1997, home phone cost $21.00 per month for the basic package and additional $4-7 per month in long distance when used. Phone service by itself costs us $42.55 per month now: a 100% increase? Six months ago, I was told to look at my current high speed internet package with Telus from a sales dude at Memory Express: he told me Telus doesn't tell its customers about any new packages that may save us money and keeps us paying status quo at lower speeds. I checked it out and found I was paying the same price for a slower speed of internet service as their highest speed service; I called customer service and was instantly upgraded from 6Mbps to 16Mbps for $5.00 LESS per month, with no questions asked or any argument!! Today, I called Telus to knock down any home phone services we do not use.. they offered me to keep my existing package and it would only cost me $36.00 per month: 15% off just for calling customer service!! I opted to take a new pkg. with only basic phone and call display as we do not use voice messaging much and call waiting is now free! $21.00 starting next month..plus 4 cents per minute long distance only when we use it! Savings of almost $25 per month!

Property Taxes- $213.21 per month... $2558.52 for 2011; $136.04, $1632.48 in 1997: A 56.7% increase in property tax includes sewer and sidewalk improvements 2 years ago. Not too awful bad considering a property value increase of 349% (city assessment); or 300% avg market value vs. purchase price from 1997.

Home Insurance- $78.25 per month or $939.00 annual.. $1million replacement and all perils liability; in 1997, it cost a premium of $362.04 per year with same coverage. A 259% increase.. coverage for sewer backup and roof damage increased significantly. A shop-around was done two years ago...I still got the best price sticking with TD Insurance (University of Alberta discount).

Life Insurance- $29.87 constant for last 10 years. Replaced the bank offered mortgage insurance for life insurance; rates with mortgage insurance are misleading- premiums stay the same while the insurer's liability constantly decreases as principle is being paid off. Not much bang for your buck... better with life insurance which also covers much more than default of mortgage via death.

Auto insurance- the only thing that has decreased per vehicle over the years ...no accidents or tickets help. May cancel one vehicle as here is only one household driver at the time. Two vehicles being insured is a waste.

Bank Fees- $32.90 with the birth of our children our free safety deposit box was upgraded in size. Plus, bank service fees has increased significantly over the years. Shop around for your bank's best deals... they now offer less fees via ATM transactions and online bill payments for a monthly set fee.

Cellular services: $68.25 for my iPhone4 (6Gb Data for $30 plus Student My10Voice with Rogers), $10.05 for the wife's Telus Pay N Talk phone; $15.75 for 3G on my iPad. Staying connected via cellular is not a necessity but convenience especially when trying to panic sell one's stocks... iPhone contract due this August; the unit is unlocked and I will negotiate a better contract.

Gym Membership- $41.98 per month multi-club membership at World Health (formerly Club fit locations); this has increased $5 per year every year for the last 3 years...very annoying because they offer better deals for new members. Will look for better options including maybe purchasing a Fitness Trainer for the basement ($2500 Fitness Depot) or different gym.

So there we have it... our 2011 basic monthly spending taking out groceries and gasoline. In comprising this look, I was able to instantly save some money like my phone bill and cable service. But, it has also shown me there is not much else other than cancelling certain services such as cable or gym membership that I can do to save on these basic monthly expenses.

Our mortgage payments of $480.00 per month in 1997, which should give us an increase in savings per month when we paid the home off, have instead completely been absorbed into the increased cost of utilities, property taxes, and home insurance; and the addition of new services like Internet, HDTV, and cellular phones. Also, the 300% increase to our primary utilities due to provincial deregulation shows more diligence is going to be required in other areas of spending. Circa 2003, at least we were able to counter rising natural gas prices with investment in Oil/Gas royalty trusts paying up to 25-30% monthly yields. In 2011, most trusts have been forced by the Government of Canada to convert back to corporate structures making everyday life much more expensive now.

Unemployment Insurance increased minimally from $413 per week before taxes to ONLY $468... a 13.3% increase in 14 years... not much compared to how much our cost of living has increased.

Doing this study also has shown me that current CPI stats can be misleading when it comes to calculating our own expenses. Local media suggests there is not much inflation and prices have increased very little over the years except for food and gas which are taken out because of their volatility and will unlikely increase very much in the future. HA! The figures the media uses are skewed to show only slight month to month increases or year to year and blame inflationary expenses are due to food price and gasoline increases. The "core" CPI, like interest, compounds making real figures like our bills show the increases to be astronomical. Yes, goods such as electronics and computers are cheaper in price these days but we replace them more often now. We use more utilities now with increased computer usage, etc. but also replaced things like light bulbs and appliances with more energy efficient ones... the real price increases come with the extra service charges now present in our bills. So when the news says prices are NOT going up, don't believe it! Look at your monthly statements and see for yourself, there is INFLATION and wages have not kept up. Just something to keep in mind if you're thinking of throwing that extra $100K into that new home in the next few months....

In Part 3, I will look at our grocery bills to see if any savings can be had there; and if there are any savings going to Superstore, Costco, or Walmart; if loyalty cards such as Airmiles or PC points are worth the hassle.


2011 Monthly Expenses Assessment... Part 1... Where's all the Money going??

Only seven more days of RRSP season left... a time to assess our finances and plan for the upcoming year...

Today, the Vanier Institute of the Family released a report indicating the Canadian household debt has hit the six- figure mark: an average at the end of 2010 of $100,879. Also, a debt to income ratio at a record 1.50! That means for every tax free dollar a Canadian household earns, they spend a $1.50. The big 3 monkeys: mortgage, personal loans, and credit cards. For those with mortgages, the average debt came in at $171,500.

This news got me thinking about where our household money was going and with noticing our utilities were on the rise yet again as were our taxes, it is time to take another look at our monthly expenses and where we might have to cut back as we haven't assessed it in detail since 2003.

In 1997, my fiancee and I decided when we purchased our home, we had to be frugal; because of the instability of my steamfitter trade (seasonal construction or maintenance), we had planned to keep our monthly costs down enough so that my would-be spouse could afford all the bills by herself or I can afford all bills while collecting Unemployment Insurance payments until I found another job which pretty much was the same amount as her gross pay in 1997.

In 1997:
Mortgage- $480 per month conventional; no CMHC with over 25% down payment.
Northwestern Utilities- bills fluctuated between $11.00 to $88.00 (winter); $37.00 average for natural gas.
Edmonton Power/ Aqualta- $62.00 average for electricity, water and drainage.
Videotron- $27.47 for cable- basic plus and multi-service plan.
Telus- $21.00 for phone services not including long distance.
Property Tax- $136.04
Home Insurance- $30.17 same exact plan I have now.
Life Insurance- $18.00 for the bank's pay your mortgage off if someone dies insurance.
Bank Fees- $9.00
Car Insurance- $75.00 for 1 vehicle PLPD.
Cellular- NIL
Alberta Health Care- $34.00 per month for family plan
Gym Membership- $22.45 at Club Fit.
Groceries- $75 per week including gasoline. There was only 2 of us back then and price at the pump was 29.9 cents per litre!

Grand total in 1997: $910.13 without groceries. $1210.13 +/- $200 with groceries and gasoline as we did grocery shopping less often and ate out more. Back then, mortgage payments and all bills came to around $1000 per month. The $413 per week pre-tax from UI more than covered those costs plus groceries which we to this day have an unlimited budget for and saving up for a wedding!

It will be interesting to see if we could afford to live today on that same budget just in case I was to be suddenly unemployed for any length of time.

And so: 2011 bills...
Mortgage- NIL
Enmax (Jan.) $295.22 electricity and natural gas. On the high side as December had a good cold spell; average $245.00 with more gas in winters and more electricity used in summer to balance out.
Epcor (Jan.) $117.75 water and waste mgmt. drainage; on the high side again. Average is $82.00...
Shaw (same monthly) $78.70 digital cable plus HD pkg.
Telus (same mthly) $86.87 telephone pkg with High Speed ADSL; Telus has announced a $2.00 increase coming in March...
Property Taxes- $213.21 no interest paid directly to the City.
Home Insurance-$78.25
Life insurance- $29.87
Auto Insurance- Morgex- 2 vehicles $89.90; $million liability on both.
Car Payments -NIL
Bank Fees- $32.90 incl. Safety Deposit Box
Cellular Phone service- $93.25 iPhone plus wife's phone plus iPad 3G
AHC- NIL no more Albera Health Care Premiums!!!
Gym Membership- $41.98 at World Health Club
Groceries- Averages about $400 per week including gasoline. $1600 per month.
Misc.- Hockey, tuition, sports activities for the boys- approximately $2000 per year.

Grand Total: $1073.93 +/- $100 for cost fluctuations without groceries. $2673.93 with a good cart-full at Costco or Superstore and weekly gas. +/- $100 for stocking up weeks or don't need much this time weeks....
The maximum EI benefit in 2011 is $468 per week pre-tax. After taxes, every 2 weeks, I would probably get just over $800; hence that wouldn't go very far with the bills we have today without cutting at least $1000 per month out of our monthly expenses. YIKES!!

Luckily I still have a job and it is good to see where the money is going... if the economy turns for the worst, cable would go, replacing phone service with VOIP, gym membership gone, halving of car insurance to 1 vehicle, and a closer look what's in our shopping cart would whittle that $1000 away hopefully.

2011 GOALS:
First Priority: We are spending $1922.80 more per month now than we did 14 years ago! $643.80 not including groceries and gas and taking into account we have no mortgage payment anymore. Getting some of that back will be the first priority. If we keep spending the way we are now, it costs us $32,087.16 plus $2000.00 for sports. Add annual vacation at $5000.00...totalling $39,087.16 without going out, ordering in,etc. Something's gotta give!

Second Priority: taking a good look at our grocery list... it will grow over time with 3 boys in the house so now's the time to analyze the necessity of the items in our cart and collect receipts for outside expenses like eating out, entertainment, etc. Thing is, when has anyone walked into Costco and walked out without a $300.00 tab???

Third Priority: 2012 TFSAs, RESPs, RRSPs, and savings... to maximize these, I would need $10,000 for the TFSAs, $7500 for the RESPs, and $5000 for the RRSP: totalling $22,500 per year. And personal savings goal of $10,000 this year...

Misc: Need new shingles and outside doors with screens...expecting costs to be $10,000.00; flooring for bedrooms and new drawers..$2000.00

$83,587.16 of already taxed money needed for 2011 if we don't adjust some spending habits...

Not looking good in accomplishing these goals unless I head to Ft. McMurray.... may have to opt out on maximizing the RESPs and installing new doors.... and the wife was asking for a kitchen reno soon... okay..I'm a wee bit taken back by the number now considering we have no long term debt like credit cards and personal loans... looking for the defibrillator...

In part 2, I will take a closer look at our monthly bills excluding groceries and gasoline like those Statscan guys do with their monthly CPI looks... to see how much of the increased spending since 1997 is actually inflation or additions to our standard of living or just wasteful spending we're not aware of... TO BE CONTINUED...


RESPs, TFSAs, and RRSPs... What to do...

So as my eldest son turned 10 years of age this past week, I figured it was time we started really planning ahead in terms of his education, etc. Over the past 10 years, all 3 kids have accumulated just over $4000 in birthday money, Chinese New Years gifts, and Christmas money... finally enough to maybe buy a GIC or a bond rather than let it sit in a savings account and earn next to nil.

When the eldest was born, we had looked into perhaps opening a RESP account for him. At the time, the Government of Canada was offering a 20% grant up to annual max of $400 towards an RESP (so a $2000 contribution). All the rules and exceptions involved at the time swayed my decision to start an RESP: Back then, only 4 year university programs and a handful of technical school (NAIT, SAIT) programs qualified as post-secondary schooling that an RESP could be put towards; trade school certification courses were not included nor was community college programs. So, instead we decided to focus on paying down our mortgage and maximize our RRSP contributions.

Currently the rules have changed: now the maximum grant has increased from $400 to $500 (still 20% of annual contribution); lower income earners can receive a larger grant (up to $600 annually for incomes lower than $40, 970 and $550 on incomes less than $81,941); and more post secondary schools can be paid with an RESP including trade certification programs. Hence, a lifetime maximum of $7200 per child can be received through the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG). Not bad. Details here...

And, with the additional Alberta Centennial Education Savings Grant added towards the RESP, suddenly opening an RESP is worthwhile. The ACESG deposits $500 into an RESP for every child born to Alberta residents in 2005 and after; additional grants of $100 is available for those children who turn 8, 11, and 14 in 2005 or later (an extra $300) with a minimum contribution by Alberta residents of $100 to their RESP. Details here.

With the introduction of the TFSA - Tax Free Savings Account in 2009, we figured this was THE way I could get the wife some sort of pension and because the rules are much more flexible in a TFSA, it provided a great way to pay for our children's education too! A maximum contribution of $5000 is allowed in a TFSA but the amount can be withdrawn without penalty or taxation and be put back in future years without losing any contribution room!!

So... what to do? RRSP, TFSA, or RESP? So here's my plan: do them all! Being mortgage and debt free has its benefits... if you are swimming in debt or have a large mortgage, maximizing any of these would seem next to impossible.. but if you prioritize in the same order and contribute what you can, it's not all that bad.

First priority is to maximize contributions to my RRSP for the tax deduction. Since the wife is a stay at home parent, there is no real need to contribute to her RRSP as she has no income or taxes to pay. If you have a corporate pension and your wife stays home, buy a spousal RRSP for her for the tax deduction.

Next priority would be to maximize both TFSAs every year. As I have a union pension, the RRSP contribution room will be minimal and enable me to do this. A TFSA for a stay at home parent is a great way to 'income split' and a glorious way to save for a spouse's retirement. Using the additional tax refund from contributing to your RRSP is the best way to come up with the funds for a TFSA.

RESPs will be the last priority for contributions... with extra effort to maximize contributions in the years the kids each turn 8, 11, and 14 in order to qualify for the ACESG. I put this as the last priority because of the rules the RESP has.. If finding the funds are low, my advice would be to contribute to the RRSP and TFSA first and only put in $100 in the RESP to qualify for the Alberta resident grant in those particular years.

So this year, all 3 kids got RESPs with maximum contributions from their own savings and a top off from my tax return from last year: $2500 in each account. Each will receive $500 from the Government of Canada. The second eldest will get an additional $100 for turning 8 years old this year and the youngest hit the jackpot with an additional ACESG of $500. So the original $7500 contribution now totals $9600: a 28% return without investing in one single instrument! Free money is always nice.

Only problem now is if I wanted to maximize all those above accounts annually, I will have to come up with $17500 for the TFSAs and RESPs and an additional $3000- $6000 for the RRSP annually. And since it's already taxed money being contributed, that works out to coming up with $47,000 of annual income specifically for our family's futures. YIKES!!


Portfolio Update...Playbook 2011

Its already mid February and time to check up on the ol' stocks...

$AAPL—still sticking with $AAPL- up over 10% since the start of the year. Ipads sales were incredible and news of the Verizon iPhone 4 selling out on initial pre-orders in less than 24 hours (close to a million) helps. With a P/E of 20 and , even at $360 per share, this is a cheap stock. Core holding- long.

$RIMM- I like it and am watching for an entry. Blackberry customers are loyal and RIM's numbers will continue to beat market expectations. No position.

AGs: the theme of 2011 continues. $AGU, $MOS, and $POT all beat expectations and posted great outlooks in the sector. Continuing to ride the momentum. Long $POT and $MOS; traded my $AGU shares to get in on the Potash 3 for 1 split. All AGs pulled back today—a great opportunity to pick up a few more shares. Looking for re-entry in $AGU.

Uranium: watching this sector carefully; uranium spot prices continue to rise. $CCO, $UUU, and $DML (all on TSX) are the market leaders to watch. No position.

$LULU: Traded my Lululemon shares for more Potash for the split. $LULU continues to grow and post great numbers... but its P/E and valuation remains quite high among its peers in the sector. I felt people need food before women's yoga apparel... No position. Looking for re-entry for the wife's TFSA hopefully in the high $60's.

$ZAGG- a great trader stock. Seems currently range bound between $9- $10 but will most likely pop through earnings. No position. Took profits recently and watching for re-entry in $8 range.

$SU- watching for re-entry under $38. Oil will continue to play a theme for 2011...it will toy with $100 bbl.

$CMI- continues to look great as a long position or a trader; load up under $106; take profits at $113 or over will make you a ton of bucks! Currently no position.

$MELI, $MCP- on the watchlist. No position.

$INT, $AAA- my Magic 8-Ball picks for 2011... Both on the TSX Venture exchange and both continue to hold up well forming solid bases after the hype clears. Long on both.

Do your own DD... I do not recommend BUYING any of these stocks without doing your own DD first... these are stocks I currently own or am trading.... watch for any updates on my twitter feeds or facebook updates.