Let the 2011 Minor Hockey Playoffs Begin!!!

The news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan the last couple of days really puts things in perspective doesn't it? Prayers go out to the people of Japan and anyone here that has relatives or friends there now.... It makes us all realize how lucky we really are to be here on this side of the world. No matter how much you money make, how well you can save for retirement, or how well you can pick stocks, it is all for nothing if we don't have our personal lives....our families...So time out now with all the personal finance rambling I've been doing as of late on this blog... let us enjoy the reason why we work so hard, scrimp and save our pennies, rack our brains out to make it all work... so we can enjoy the finer things in life like hockey time with our boys!

In Canada they say hockey is life... the rest is details... in times like these, I tend to agree...

Let the 2011 Minor Hockey Playoffs begin!!

I haven't written a commentary on a hockey game in a while; not since I volunteered to be my son's hockey team's webmaster last season so please excuse the spelling mistakes and foul language...
Disclaimer: this commentary and related videos are entirely biased toward my eldest son's team, The NW348 Whitemud West Bulldogs....it was made for him and for his team mates' enjoyment and for entertainment purposes only. Comments made here is of the opinion of the author and any offense taken to anything written here is purely coincidental and unintentional and does not reflect the opinions or sentiments of Whitemud West Hockey Assn. or the NW348 Bulldogs or any other team mentioned below.

Game 1: Atom Flyers Division: NW348 WMW Bulldogs vs. SW582 Confederation Kraken....
Whew! What a way to start the playoffs!!! Yeah...when a goalie flashes the leather and snags a wicked one out of mid air.... at this level, isn't that like the greatest save ever!!

Our boys (in white) started the first period a bit sluggish and the aggressive play by the Confed Kraken limited our boys to only 2 shots in the first period. Our goalie Parker #1 was peppered throughout the first period by Confed but he was an absolute wall today and gave the Bulldogs the chance-to-win that they needed; down 2-0 midway through the second period, our boys started their comeback potting 4 unanswered goals to take the lead going into the third!

Some questionable non-calls by the refs along with some gritty work by the Kraken enabled them to tie the game up 4-all with 1:43 left in the game. Starting the first overtime period short-handed, our D held the line with some outstanding blocks from Isaac #15 and Jesse #10; while Parker stood on his head making save after save... finally in the 4th OT period playing 2-on-2, Matthew #11 broke out alone off the face-off and put it home for the hat and for the win!! 5-4 Bulldogs WIN!! Good job boys!!

Highlights Reel:
Goals: 1) Matthew #11; assist from Jesse #10
2) Jody #7, unassisted
3) EC #4; assist from Ryan #5
4)Matthew #11, assists from Justin #12 and Isaac #15
5) Matthew #11, unassisted.

Player of the game: Parker #1- outstanding performance in net and kept the boys in it throughout!; honourable mention to Jesse #10 and Isaac #15 with some fine defensive prowess on the blue-line. Player of the game today deserves his own video:

Next up: our home club and division rivals..the NW346 WMW Knights! Tuesday night..7:30PM Confederation Arena! See you there!

For other Nw348 Bulldogs regular season games please click on the link here.


Grocery Pricebook: Deals of the week...

With gas prices on the rise, I am determined to save more money.... Here are the deals for this weekend... all items and prices were taken from this weekend's weekly flyers... I want to take each store's best deals and see if it is really a good deal or not...

Safeway: Top Sirloin $8.80/kg ($3.99/lb)- compared to Costco's regular pricing at $9.99 per kg, that's a great deal! Stock up on the steaks..BBQ season is around the corner... ; 2 Litre Pepsi- 4 for $5; Pepsi-24 cube $6.99; Striploin "New York" steaks- $15.41/kg (%6.99/lb) cheaper than Costco's $15.99 per kg...

Superstore: It's buy $250 of groceries and get a $25 gift card (10% off); Pork Spare ribs- 4.37/kg; chicken breasts and fresh drumsticks for $15.19/kg and $5.49/kg respectively- it's a better deal at Costco for chicken breasts- $13.49/kg & drumsticks at $4.89/kg! The Real Canadian Wholesale has drumsticks for $4.37/kg and chicken breasts for $14.18/kg.

Sobey's/ IGA: Outside or Inside round roast -$4.39/kg; lean ground beef- $6.59/kg- cheaper at Costco for $5.19/kg; ribeye steaks- $17.61/kg- good deal here; chicken breasts-$13.21/kg- better deal here than at Costco for $13.49/kg; lean ground pork- $5.05/kg ($2.29/lb)- cheaper at Costco for $4.59/kg; whole chickens- $5.49/kg- better price at Costco $4.99/kg; Purex bathroom issue, 24 roll or 12 dbl roll- $4.99- best deal here at $0.21 per roll.

Save-On Foods- Navel oranges, 10lb box- $4.99ea- that's better than Costco's 13lb box, 24count for $10.99 even with the $2.50 off coupon last week; Campbell's tomato soup, 12 x 284mL- $4.99 ea; Russet potatoes- 20lb for $4.99; onions, 10lb- $3.99 best deal for taters and onions here.

Walmart- Delissio frozen pizzas, various- $4.99 ea.- better than $5.99 per pizza at Shopper's last week.

Costco- Huggies pull-ups, various sizes- $29.99 per box; Bounty towels- $4 off; Hampton House dry garlic ribs- $4 off; laminate flooring, 3 colours- $7 off per box...

Shopper's Drug Mart: spend %50 or more and get $10 gift card; Coke or Pepsi, 12 pack- 3 for $9.99; Clover Leaf Flake light tuna cans, 170g- 5 for $5- usually anything a buck or under per can is the best deal for tuna; Scott mega paper rolls, 6 count- $4.99..

NoFrills: Chicken Drumsticks- $4.12/kg; split chicken wings- $7.69/kg; Royale bathroom tissue, 30 count- $4.77 each. What's neat about No Frills is they will match all competitors' lowest prices if you bring in the flyer... but watch out for the crazy people who shop there...

Still..lowest price for gasoline is Costco.. 105.9 per Litre; Domo has similar prices; average Edmonton price is 110.9 /L.


Just What the Fuck Am I Paying For??? An In-Depth Look at our Monthly Utility Bills...

So in the last few weeks, I have attempted to take a closer look at our monthly household expenditures and see where our money was going in hopes of discovering where we can cut back.

A few posts ago, I did a comparison of our monthly costs from 1997 and how much more we are paying now. I did find our monthly bills took a hike on average almost 300% to what we were paying in 1997; in fact, our mortgage payments we had back then are now fully absorbed into our monthly bills now- meaning the cost of our utilities and other monthly necessities excluding food and gas has increased so much since 1997, that we are paying more per month now being mortgage free than we were in 1997 with a 5.25 % mortgage!

Remember when every summer your heating bill was like $10? I never see those kind of bills anymore..do they even go down anymore?.... what happened? Are we using that much in utilities now? In this post, I want to take a closer look at our utility bills per se and see if our consumption is that much higher than it was in 1997. We have 3 children now and my wife stays at home; so it is expected we should be consuming more heat, electricity, and water than we did when it was just the two of us in the same home and both of us had full time day jobs.

But, we have also taken other measures to save on consumption costs over the years: we switched all our incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescent ones (they're supposed to last longer and pay for themselves in energy savings though more expensive to buy); we changed out our top load washer and dryer to front load Energy Star washer and dryer with bigger capacities; we replaced our old aluminum frame windows to triple pane gas-filled PVC frames throughout our home; we added a higher R-value styrofoam insulation and vinyl siding on top of our once wood sided exterior of our home; added central air conditioning and got rid of the dozens of little electric fans; installed a digital programmable thermostat; changed out the dip tube in our hot water tank; changed our toilets to the dual flush, low water consumption variety; we changed out our dishwasher and range to more energy efficient Energy Star rated appliances; our television sets and computer screens are all LCD or plasma which is supposed to be much more energy efficient compared to the old CRT or tube displays.

I again reiterate the reason why I use the year 1997 as my benchmark for my comparison is because, it was in 1997, we bought our home and based our standard of living to affording all those monthly payments as if I was unemployed collecting UI or the wife affording all monthly payments by herself with her retail job. And, since we were able to do that back then, the test is to see if we are able to live that way now in 2011.

First, heating...

As you can see above in Nov.24 to Dec 23 (29 day period), we used 17.98 GJ of natural gas at a cost of 3.09789/GJ. Energy cost totalling $55.70 and total bill with added fees and GST is $83.26. Average temperatures in December 1997 ranged from −12C to +14C; most of the month sat in the +5C area and with the exception of the first week, temperatures were above freezing.

In the same time period of 29days (Nov24-Dec22) in 2010, we used 18.79GJ of natural gas at an average cost of $3.74773/GJ; energy cost totalling $70.26.

As you can see our consumption of heat is only 0.81GJ more (same home and same furnace) and the cost of natural gas is only $0.6498 difference between now and in 1997. A difference in energy costs of only $14.56, but if we had the same energy rates as in 1997 as now, or the same consumption levels, you will see the difference in consumption and actual costs is pretty much nil; it is closely the same now as it was in 1997. BUT... total bill in Dec 2010 is $158.45!!! Almost double the amount we have to pay per month due to fixed fees, administration fees, transmission fees, and service charges!!

In December 2010, it was a much colder month than it was in 1997; temperatures ranged from −20C to −2C and remained below −10C for most of the month!

Since gas consumption levels were pretty much the same in Dec 1997 compared to Dec 2010, but 2010 was on average about 15C to 20C COLDER than it was in 1997, this tells me all of our attempts to save on energy costs such as new windows and insulation must be working! Yay!

How about electricity?

In 1997 for the month of November (Dec 3rd meter reading), we used 622kWh of electricity at a cost of $0.0668 per kilowatt per hour; total energy cost of $41.55; bill totalling $53.36 with GST.

In the same month in 2010 (Dec. 1st meter reading), we used 973kWh at an energy cost of $0.070 per kWh; the total energy cost of $68.11.

As you can see, electricity rates are very close but consumption is up 50% in November 2010. But, comparably if consumption was the same in 2010 as it was in 1997, the cost of actual energy per se would be pretty much the same. But, the total bill including those new transmission fees, administration fees, etc is $119.03 with GST! More than double in 2010 than in 1997 subtracting the higher consumption from the equation!! Additional consumption would only add an extra $24.57 to our bill; the rest of the increases come from the gouging by Enmax with their ridiculous transmission fees and administration and distribution charges!!

Water, drainage and waste management...

In November 1997 (meter reading on Dec 3rd), we used 7.0 cubic metres of water at a cost of 164.57 cents per cubic metre; total energy cost was $11.52. Drainages cost $10.15 based on our consumption. Waste Management or garbage disposal cost a fee of $5.00 in 1997.

In the same month in 2010 (meter reading on Dec 1st), we used 10.0 cubic metres of water at a cost of 158.7 cents per cubic metre; total energy cost of $21.60. Drainage cost $23.85 and waste management cost $29.85. Total bill for November 2010 including all fees was $75.39!!

We can see actual water rates have actually dropped since 1997 but our consumption was up 50% also; 3 more cubic metres of water used in 2010 than 1997 equalling 659.91 gallons more water usage! But if we had the same consumption level now as in 1997, we can see we would only save $10 in water and $10 in drainage totalling only $20 off our current bill; so the increased consumption really doesn't add up to very much considering again there are more people in our household now and the upgrade to a front load washer possibly helps keep our water usage down. But, our 2010 water bill minus the $20 in consumption savings would still be more than double what we paid in 1997...

Hence, in this look at 1997 versus 2010 consumption of utilities, we can see actual usage has went up for water and power by 50% for each; adding 3 children ages 10, 7, and 4 attributed a large part in that increase in consumption; and the fact one adult stays at home more hours of the day than she did in 1997. Adding energy conservation items such as fluorescent lighting and Energy Star appliances may or may not have reduced our water and power usage and it remains to be proven in another study perhaps in the near future just really how much those energy efficient upgrades are saving us each month if they are actually at all. Yes, granted, we probably can do a much better job in our energy conservation by turning off more lights and trying to use less water but, in reality the 50% hike in consumption only adds $20 to our bill for water and $26 for power.

Natural gas rates and consumption, is mostly the same since 1997; there was a spike in natural gas prices circa 2003-2005 where we all saw huge increases in our gas bills in Alberta; but those floating commodity prices has fallen since the recession and currently sit close to 1997 levels now; and for some reason our bills have not dropped relative to falling commodity prices. We also see in our example above that December 2010 was much colder than December of 1997; and our natural gas usage remained constant hence our efforts to save money back when natural gas prices spiked to record highs to $11- $13/GJ by installing new windows and insulation and other energy saving tactics was not in vain.

But, as with all the utilities, it was also shown most of the increases came in the form of new or extra service or administration fees that were non-existent in 1997.

It seems that energy deregulation in Alberta really hasn't affected actual energy user rates by making them cheaper with more competition among providers or more expensive for that matter; but what it has done is let these service providers rake us through the coals by letting them charge whatever they want for fees and charges that have nothing to do with the generation, transmission and distribution of the product.

Perhaps the people in Alberta should look at their bills a little closer and ask the government why our utilities has increased so much in 13 years... As most of us including myself, have been guilty of just getting our monthly bills and obliviously paying them off each and every month without inquiry. The utility companies have blamed rising commodity prices in gas and electricity and today's greater consumption needs with the advent of high speed internet, greater use of electronic goods, etc.; and we ignorantly believe them. While in this analysis, I have found our greater consumption of utilities has increased with the increase in people in the household and more electronic goods in use BUT because of the addition of more energy efficient appliances, the increase in energy usage is actually quite nominal compared to the providers' added surcharges and administration fees. C'mon! A "Municipal Franchise Fee"?? And what the heck is a "Balancing Pool Allocation" fee or these "rider" fees??

That's like if I opened a coffee shop to sell coffee..but you will be charged a service charge for using clean towels to wipe up spilt coffee.. WTF?? And yeah, the Government permits it to happen! It is little wonder why Egypt and Libya are up in arms these days...perhaps we need a revolt or a "Day of Rage" of our own...


Who Says I Need a Million Bucks to Retire?

Following up on my query to save a million bucks by the time I retire, I ask do I really need that much and is it really enough by the time I retire?

In a recent TD Canada Trust poll, 3/4 of the respondents said it was unlikely that they would be worth $1 million by the time they retire and one third believed the only way they would have a million by the time they retire is by winning the lottery.....

An interesting question was posed on a friend's wall on Facebook a while back..."where will YOU be in 20 years?" Most people responded with answers like mortgage free, debt free, and retired; travelling and enjoying life; children done University and living on a remote island paradise or at least somewhere with a beach front.... So, most of my peers don't believe they will attain a million dollars in 20 years BUT believe by some miracle they will be still retired and travelling abroad... hence, it must be true that those who are retired or will retire in 20 years like myself believe a million must be more than enough; they will be happy and have successful retirements without a million dollars saved.

So then is the benchmark million dollars just " financial pornography" then, as financial advisor and blogger Jim Yih suggests? Yih opines financial porn is images or ideas of what retirement SHOULD BE like created purposely by financial institutions to sell their investments and retirement products. Yih postulates retirement should be personal and different for different people so there is no set number; there are many people living successfully in retirement that don't travel most of the year and you should be doing what you enjoy. Who came up with the notion you must have a million dollars to retire comfortably? Jim Yih says much of this is hype exists because of the financial industry and media.

If not a million then, how much is enough to retire on? If we think of retirement as just not having to go to work or relying on work for income instead of the dream of golfing everyday at Pebble Beach or lying around the beaches of Hawaii, it may be not as bad as we think.

A Moneysense article states a worst case scenario, retirement in 5 major Canadian cities costs only $20,200 to $27,400 to eke a bare bones living. Old Age Pension (OAS) and CPP and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) will actually cover all those basic need; we wouldn't have to save a nickel!! Hurray! BUT, bare bones living is hardly our idea of a successful retirement life is it? Most of us would want something over and above than just squeaking by....

According to a study by Statistics Canada, median spending by couples over 65 is $40,000 and average spending is $51,000 per year. So assuming most of your basic needs are covered by government programs, you would only need another $10,000 to $30,000 plus inflation for extra spending to enjoy an average to higher-end retirement. Using the rule of 4%, a quick standard for retirement planning (save $25 for every $1 needed in retirement income), that means having a nest egg of $250,000 for the median retirement to $750,000 for a higher end retirement! A lot less than the million dollar benchmark.

Still, many of us currently dealing with debt and 10-15 years left on our mortgages, how are they going to come up with $250K? Most of us are nearing 40 now if not already; by the time my peers' homes are paid off in full, they will be 55; hence they have 10 years to come up with $250K?? A daunting task indeed. Here's the problem with the Moneysense article and many other financial gurus' advice... you're supposed to save and save and save until you hit that magic number, then you draw down your savings by so many percent every year in retirement. What if you want to retire earlier than 65? No OAS or CPP yet... the earlier you retire, you draw down your savings quite a bit and may not have enough when you get to 65.

I think the answer lies in those who have retired early. More and more people are retiring early, in their 40's in fact without winning a lottery or hitting a big financial windfall inheritance. How?

They are able to replace their working income with passive income streams such as rental income and/or interest/dividend yields; which in turn pay all their monthly living expenses. An article on Canadian Dream: Free at 45 blog suggests a magic number of $2000 per month income. The author determined how much it would cost to live frugally each month with no mortgage and no debt and no "lifestyle" items such as vacations, toys, etc.; consulting with many retirees and those about to retire to see what their numbers were like and it came in around the same amount...$2000 per month.

Using this number of $2000 per month, how much money would I need to save and invest to generate this kind of income:

So if one was to buy a high yield dividend paying stock such as a bank or utility, it would give us a pretty good idea what we will need to save. For example, we buy Royal Bank (RY): pays out a 3.3% yield at $2.00 per share annually; I would need 12,000 shares of Royal Bank to get my $24,000 per year I need; at $59.59 per share as of Friday, it would cost me $715,080.00 plus commissions. Perhaps something with more yield like Bank of Montreal; 4.5% yield paying $2.80 per annum; I would only need 9000 shares at its current price of $61.73 costing me $555,570.00 to attain more than $2000 per month income. If you can handle more risk, buying a REIT or oil Trust may be to your liking... Riocan (REI.UN) pays out a $1.38 annual dividend for a 5.8% yield; costing $449,350.00 for 19000 shares. Enerplus Resources pays a dividend of $2.16 giving 6.9% return; costs $363,710.00 for 11500 shares and pays monthly $2070! A good asset mix of high yielding dividend stocks and income trusts should cost an average near $500K to generate a monthly income of $2000.00 then. The FinancialBlogger.com does a good look, updated all the time, at various Canadian dividend stocks here:

TickerNamePriceDividend YieldPayout RatioEx-Dividend
YLOYellow Media Inc5.5711.68148.583/29/2011
ERFEnerplus Corp31.726.81302.23/8/2011
TATransAlta Corp20.555.64146.335/30/2011
BCEBCE Inc36.025.4774.183/11/2011
BMOBank of Montreal61.964.5258.754/27/2011
SLFSun Life Financial Inc32.274.4650.945/24/2011
SJR/BShaw Communications Inc20.694.4569.853/11/2011
TTELUS Corp48.154.3662.093/9/2011
TRPTransCanada Corp39.044.390.383/29/2011
CMCanadian Imperial Bank of Commerce/Canada82.194.2359.133/24/2011
ARXARC Resources Ltd28.44.23120.213/29/2011
RCI/BRogers Communications Inc34.34.1448.253/16/2011
HSEHusky Energy Inc29.97486.963/21/2011
POWPower Corp of Canada/Canada29.363.9580.793/21/2011
PWTPenn West Petroleum Ltd28.093.84303.543/29/2011
NANational Bank of Canada74.863.5341.43/22/2011
RYRoyal Bank of Canada56.793.5257.264/19/2011
FTSFortis Inc/Canada32.993.5285.615/4/2011
ENBEnbridge Inc58.053.3867.295/11/2011
BNSBank of Nova Scotia603.2750.14/1/2011
TRIThomson Reuters Corp38.323.19106.565/18/2011
TDToronto-Dominion Bank/The81.3347.64/1/2011
MFCManulife Financial Corp18.362.8393.225/13/2011
COSCanadian Oil Sands Ltd30.052.66101.135/18/2011
ECAEncana Corp31.582.4839.363/11/2011
SCShoppers Drug Mart Corp41.22.4333.133/29/2011
CVECenovus Energy Inc37.752.1260.523/11/2011
LLoblaw Cos Ltd39.532.1234.363/11/2011
WNGeorge Weston Ltd68.092.11221.433/11/2011
MGMagna International Inc47.852.0410.483/9/2011
CNRCanadian National Railway Co71.061.8323.913/8/2011
CTC/ACanadian Tire Corp Ltd61.761.7816.274/27/2011
MRU/AMetro Inc441.7517.665/16/2011
CPCanadian Pacific Railway Ltd65.941.6427.453/23/2011
BBD/BBombardier Inc6.251.623.195/11/2011
THITim Hortons Inc42.791.5914.53/3/2011
SAPSaputo Inc41.161.5531.093/3/2011
BAM/ABrookfield Asset Management Inc32.961.5421.674/27/2011
SNCSNC-Lavalin Group Inc56.241.2125.223/16/2011
TCK/BTeck Resources Ltd53.751.126.346/10/2011
TLMTalisman Energy Inc24.111.0462.386/1/2011
CCOCameco Corp39.531.0121.43/29/2011
GILGildan Activewear Inc31.10.950
YRIYamana Gold Inc12.350.9514.283/29/2011
ABXBarrick Gold Corp51.280.9213.835/27/2011
AEMAgnico-Eagle Mines Ltd68.30.927.825/31/2011
SUSuncor Energy Inc45.660.8822.733/2/2011
IMOImperial Oil Ltd50.590.8721.533/1/2011
GGoldcorp Inc46.410.8411.123/15/2011
NXYNexen Inc26.510.7518.183/8/2011
KKinross Gold Corp15.40.639.153/22/2011
CNQCanadian Natural Resources Ltd48.930.6114.433/9/2011
ELDEldorado Gold Corp16.550.613.28/10/2011
POTPotash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc59.860.466.524/12/2011
IMGIAMGOLD Corp20.590.3910.6212/20/2011
FMFirst Quantum Minerals Ltd126.50.311.254/11/2011
IMNInmet Mining Corp66.810.33.125/25/2011
AGUAgrium Inc92.120.122.336/15/2011
VRXValeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc38.99057.843/4/2011

Choose wisely and not only can those stocks generate a good monthly income for you but also you benefit from capital gains; much better than just simply drawing down your hard earned savings.

How many income generation stocks should you hold in your portfolio? Intelligent Speculator gives some advice on the topic here. I like to use dividend stocks and income trusts as an example for myself as I'm into those types of investments and believe passive income in retirement is the way to go. Whether or not you choose to buy stocks or invest in rental properties or start some kind of home-based business is entirely up to you and what kind of retirement lifestyle you want.

So do I need a million bucks? Everyone is different like Jim Yih says; "retirement is personal"; and goals are varying. I was told by a friend on Facebook that living "comfortable is a very subjective statement" (thanks Craig!).

So, for myself, the answer is NO.

I gave up my battle with the Jones' in my 20's.... I do have a pension.. currently it will generate $1600 per month if I quit my job tomorrow; by the time I retire at 58, I expect it to produce $3000 to $4000 monthly income; that is, if oil doesn't drop to $12 a barrel again in the next 17 years and leave me unemployed for very long. I would hope to have an above median retirement which includes golf and travelling so an additional $2000 per month income would be ideal; giving me a "subjectively comfortable" retirement spending guideline near $60,000 per annum plus inflation with no debt; no mortgage.

I shall still strive to save like my goal is a million bucks; try to live like I'm on Unemployment Insurance by trying to find savings in my monthly costs wherever I can; and invest enough to accumulate a good asset mix of stocks and other income generating instruments that will hopefully eventually replace the income I need from my job within 17 years. At least I can rest assure I won't need a million bucks to retire; I will just have to get used to the idea that I will be happily retired as a thousandaire...

Sounds like a plan. But now how am I going to pay for the kids' educations...? Sigh...