Oaken Update – August, 2017

Canada’s economy, and how it may affect you

The news about Canada’s economy has been all good lately. Encouraging employment figures, low inflation, and then the GDP numbers for May—growth of 0.6%, which is triple the 0.2% that most economists had expected. With headlines calling this “blow-out” growth, there’s no question that our economy has turned the corner from the slowdown of two years ago. Canada is now predicted by the IMF to have the highest economic growth in the G-7, at 2.5% for 2017. The Bank of Canada has gone even further, forecasting growth of 2.9% for the year. Everything seems to be coming up roses for the Maple Leaf. But does that mean things are rosy for everyone?

Rising interest rates, rising loonie

The strength of our economy has made a hike in interest rates even more likely than before. As we noted in last month’s Oaken Update, the Bank of Canada finally hiked the prime rate in July, after unprecedented lows of almost a decade. And even though inflation is still below the Bank’s target rate, many market watchers expect the rate to be hiked again in the fall.

That could mean higher borrowing costs for you. Payments on everything from mortgages to loans to credit cards can be affected whenever there’s a rate hike. So now’s a good opportunity to double check your finances. Do you have enough breathing room for rate hikes in the next few months? If not, it may be time to trim back your debt.

Rising rates also mean a stronger loonie. That’s great news if you’re travelling to the U.S., or even if you live there for a good part of the year, as everything there will now be cheaper. However, if you own real estate in the U.S., it will have lost value in Canadian dollars. That doesn’t matter much if you aim to hold on to the property for the long term, but it does matter if you depend on it for rental income, as those payments are now worth a bit less here at home. And of course, the same is true for equities, bonds and savings accounts denominated in U.S. dollars. Your capital gains, dividends and interest payments will all take a hit once they’re converted into Canadian currency.

Good for the country—good for you?

And finally, there’s the question of housing prices. A strong economy tends to boost support for prices, while rising rates dampen them. There are many other factors that affect the housing market as well, so it’s not always clear what will happen to prices after a rate hike. The upshot of all this is that a strong economy may be good for the country as a whole, but its impact on individuals can vary quite a lot. We should all celebrate good economic news, but remember to take a closer look at your own personal circumstances before breaking out the champagne.


Gardening tips for fall

Alas, summer is near an end, and it will soon be time to wind down your garden, wherever you live in Canada. Here are a few tips to keep things in great shape for spring 2018…

Cut back only where necessary

There’s no need to prune with abandon in your garden. Just cut back dead leaves, branches and flower heads, but leave everything else alone. If you prune too much, you’ll encourage new growth that won’t be hardy enough to survive the winter. With a lot of plants, stalks that haven’t been trimmed to the ground will help things grow back straight during the spring.

If in doubt, mulch

Mulching isn’t always necessary over the winter, as many plants are hardier than we think. But if you’re in doubt, and are worried about the effects of a hard winter or repeated frost-thaw cycles, by all means pile on a layer or two of mulch—it can’t hurt. Wood chips, leaves, seaweed (if you live on a coast) and evergreen boughs all do the trick.

Chop up those leaves

Bagging leaves can be a lot of work, especially if you have a lot of trees on your property. Take the easy way out by spreading a layer of leaves on your lawn and running over them with a mower. You have to do this at least a few times, because the flakes from leaves have to be really small to be absorbed back into the ground. But it’s worth it because you’re returning nutrients to the soil, and also saving yourself quite a bit of bother and time.

Get your bulbs in

Fall is the time to plant many types of bulbs. Some should go n early, such as garlic and daffodils. While others can go in later, such as the ever-popular tulip. To determine what’s right for your plants, check the directions on the relevant packet, or look up the information on the internet. Remember that planting times will vary by geographic zone, so make sure you’re looking at information that’s relevant to where you live.


Financial information at your fingertips

The internet provides all of us with access to a wealth of financial information that was unthinkable two decades ago. Back in the olden days, you had to pay for the kind of information the pros had— how times have changed! And that has created a new challenge: how do you wade through all that data to get what you need? It’s easy to Google whatever you’re looking for, but it’s surprising how often that doesn’t prove effective. We’ve all ended up chasing down a rabbit hole for something we thought we would find after just one click.

They key is to keep things simple. By selecting a few reliable websites that you can bookmark, you can save yourself a lot of time, especially as you get more familiar with your chosen sites. We’ve put together a small list of some popular online financial destinations that cover the basics, in the hopes that it will help make your life a bit easier.

For general financial information, one of the most powerful financial sites out there is Google Finance, which gives you real-time quotes for your equities, as well as historical charts, data from world markets, company profiles, and the latest financial news. Yahoo has a similarly comprehensive site.

If you need access to company filings, such as public securities information or other documents filed by issuers in Canada, you’ll find it all on SEDAR. Or for companies registered in the United States, you’ll need to look at EDGAR.

Interest and exchange rates can be found in countless places, but why not get it from the most reliable source of all, the Bank of Canada? Not only does their website have the latest information, it also has historical data that goes back decades.

When it come to rate shopping, there are a number of great sites that let you compare rates for things like mortgages, GICs, savings accounts and credit cards. We particularly like RateHub and RateSupermarket for their ease of use. You can specify what kind of financial solution you’re interested in, as well as other features such as length of term or minimum deposit, and the site will give you an array of choices that meet your criteria. They also have handy calculators, informative articles and special offers that can save you money.

Of course there are many alternatives to these sites, so by all means look around for others if these don’t quite suit your needs.


Five great apps for forgetful people

We’re all overloaded with information these days, and that makes it easier than ever to forget important things. But just as technology creates problems, it can also solve them. So here are five great mobile applications to take a load off your mind and simplify your life…

Park ‘n’ Forget (iPhone)

Who hasn’t at least once forgotten where they parked their car in a multi-level garage? It happens to all of us, no matter how young or old. With Park ‘n’ Forget, you don’t have to remember any more. You simply enter the colour or number associated with your floor of the garage, and voilà—you can forget all about it until you come back to find your car. You can even set a reminder for the time you spend in a parking spot that is metered, so you can avoid annoying parking tickets.

Pillboxie (iPhone and iPad)

Forgetting where you parked your car is one thing. Forgetting when to take your pills is quite another. Fortunately, there’s an app for that too. Pillboxie lets you schedule when to take your medications, and helps you keep track of them with colour-coding, forty different shapes and a neat little on-screen pillbox. Take that, forgetfulness!

Evernote (Apple and Android)

Evernote promotes itself with the slogan “Meet Evernote, your second brain.” Quite a claim, but one that it backs up by letting you remember and keep track of just about every little (or big) idea, thought or mental note you could possibly have. It lets you write down your notes, organize them, and then improve them with things like checklists, attachments and even audio recordings. Plus it’s all searchable, even things you’ve written by hand

Pocket (Apple and Android)

Have you ever seen a must-read article on the web, and then, days later, forgotten where you saw it? It happens to all of us, but now Pocket solves that problem. Simply send that article (or video, image, whatever) to any device you have, and read or view it later. Pocket sets up a queue of your content and lets you browse it at leisure, even without an internet connection.

Find My Device (Android) / Find My iPhone (Apple)

There’s obviously no point in having any of these apps on your phone if you can’t find your phone! That makes the Find my Device app (and its Apple equivalent, Find My iPhone) the mother of all apps—literally. Find My Device locates your phone, tablet or watch on a map, and then instructs it to play a sound when you’re near. It also lets you lock the device remotely so that your information is secure.


Reading corner

Hard to believe, but back to school is just around the corner! Here are some articles to get you in the learning mode again…

 

This post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not to be considered financial advice. Always do your research before making any investment decisions.

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