Savvy Real Estate Series – Part 1: Should you sell your house yourself?


Many money management blogs will focus on ways to save money by doing little things over a long period of time – things like meal prep, not buying coffee every day, budgeting for the holidays, shopping around for savings etc. And while those things are certainly important, I think its also important to consider areas where you can save a LOT of money in a short amount of time.

One of those things is by selling your home yourself and not using an agent to avoid having to fork over the commission.

This is something I’ve now done several times –  I’ve sold two homes and leased/rent several properties without using an agent and each time I’ve managed to do better than realtors had told me I’d get. So I decided to make a series of posts on this topic. I’ll start with this one – helping you determine if selling your house yourself is something you should do – and I’ll follow it with tips on selling your house as well as how to choose the best agent, if you decide selling your house yourself isn’t for you.

Why you should always look into selling your house yourself

In most countries, real estate agents charge a commission – i.e. a percentage of the sale price of your home – as their compensation for selling your house. In Canada, the buying and selling agent will typically charge 2.5% each – or 5% total. In New Zealand (where I’m currently living), only the selling agents get commission, and its typically 4.5% + GST.

Now this can amount to be a HUGE chunk of change. The average home in Canada now sells for about $475,000. This means that when you sell your house, you will have to pay the realtors $23,750 in commissions alone . Also, if the house you sell is your primary home, this money would also be free from capital gains tax, so it would be ALL yours to use as you please. That money could be used to pay off debt, beef up savings or a down payment for another home (so you don’t have to get as high a mortgage). And that is just the average – this number gets higher the more you sell your home for.

This leads me to another reason – many agents are just not that good, and in my opinion don’t really earn that generous commission. But it doesn’t take an idiot to do the math above and realize that if they are able to sell just a few houses in a year, it can effectively replace a 50 week, 9-5 salary – for significantly less work.

Granted, realtors don’t get to keep the entire commission (some goes to the brokerage, overhead costs, taxes etc) but in a hot market like we are currently experiencing where houses often sell within days of being listed, for ridiculous sums of money and no conditions, its no wonder that the number of real-estate agents is at an all time high. In what other profession can you take a quick course, have no post-secondary education and be licensed to work within a year, getting paid upwards of $20,000 per sale? Its no wonder that in Toronto alone, the number of licensed agents has doubled over the past ten years. As a result, there are a ton of inexperienced agents out there that really don’t know what they are doing any more than you do.

Another main driver for me was the fact that selling your home is work to you regardless if you use an agent or not. In most cases, YOU have to clean/tidy your home before showings or open homes, YOU need to organize your family to be elsewhere when these showings take place, YOU need to pay for staging, YOU choose who to sell to and where to compromise and YOU have to pay for a lawyer to deal with the legal stuff.

You should also some market research to know what to expect what your home will sell for – sometimes agents will low-ball a house just so they can sell it faster. For every $10,000 the agent gets $500 extra – it might not be worth the extra effort to a realtor to market a house for $10,000 or $20,000 more for a few hundred dollars but to the seller, that is a lot of money, especially if that is what it is worth and could sell for. So whether or not you use an agent, YOU should still know approximately what your home is worth. In sum, a lot of it is on you anyway, so shouldn’t YOU get some compensation for that?

However, selling your house yourself is still work – don’t kid yourself – there is a reason that there is a whole profession dedicated to selling houses. So I’ve developed a guideline to follow for  when it would make sense to do it yourself.

When to sell your house yourself:

  • You have time and are flexible. This is one of the main reasons I do it myself. I am a work-at-home mom and I was available to show my house at any time, on any day of the week. I’ve even had people ring the doorbell and asking to have a look because they knew they’d be dealing with the seller directly anyway and I was able to show it. No need to worry about a busy agent showing another client’s house or personal time and potentially losing a sale.
  • In a seller’s market. This is when house prices are on the rise and supply of houses is low. Basically, the situation right now in many big cities like Toronto or Vancouver or Auckland. Buyers have to be less picky and can’t put as many (or any) conditions on purchase, which pretty much guarantees you the sale if your home is in the location they want.
  • Your house is in an excellent location. There is a reason that “location, location, location” is the dogma of real estate. If your house is in a good location, even if its the worst house on the block, it will sell. And in a market like this? It will pretty much sell itself and will sell very quickly.
  • You aren’t easily offended. Look, buying real estate is a big deal for most people, so purchasers will be critical (in order to not seem too keen, because its easy to criticize when its not your home, people have different tastes etc) and it may be hard to hear someone mutter about the hideous curtains/wall colour you lovingly chose, renovations you’ve done etc. You can’t let it discourage you.
  • You have some business savvy/confidence and be a bit of a risk taker. A home sale is a business transaction at the end of the day. You need to know how to market your home, stage it and understand the market well enough to be able to negotiate effectively (I will do a post on tips to sell your home soon).
  • You are and can afford to be patient. Selling your home yourself will probably take longer than with an agent. Selling agents may avoid showing your house to potential clients (since they don’t get any commission), buyers themselves may not want to deal without agents and in general you will not be able to reach the same number of potential buyers that an agent can. It can get discouraging when you put in all this effort to get it ready only to have no or little interest after your first open home. But if you are able to give it some time, selling yourself may be a good idea. Remember, you can only have one buyer at the end of the day and chances are that if you are in a sought after area, you will have no problem finding interested buyers.

That all said, there are times when I would recommend using an agent.

When to use an agent:

  • You are just too busy and don’t have the flexibility to show the home whenever a potential buyer is interested, it really is in your best interest to use an agent.
  • In a buyer’s market. This is when there may be an abundance of houses or the market has cooled off for whatever reason and a realtor will potentially be better able to reach  a bigger network of interested buyers and be better able to help you negotiate. This is where an experienced agent is key.
  • Your property is very unique or difficult to sell. The easiest houses to sell are those that appeal to a larger group of people – that also means they are pretty conventional and in popular locatoins. But if your property is very unique – for example, its a luxury property, or has some unique features, or is in a less than desirable location – a good agent that specializes in that type of real estate would be good to use to make sure you are getting the best price.
  • You are not a natural negotiator and/or don’t like conflict. There are some people who are born sales people or negotiators and there are some who aren’t. The latter are the people who will mess up selling their own home and will be the horror stories that realtors will tell potential clients with glee. Like I mentioned before, selling by yourself is work and its not as easy as it looks.
  • You need to sell ASAP. If you have to move quickly, I’d recommend using an agent for sure. My approach to selling on my own involves having a timeline of how long I am willing to list without an agent before giving in and getting an agent and still making the timeline I want to have my house sold. If you don’t have the luxury to wait it out selling yourself, don’t do it.

Convinced yet? If so, stay tuned for my next post which will include tips on how to sell your home yourself!

Quinoa Guacamole Bowl

I *may* have an obsession with avocados. I buy 2-3 every time I go grocery shopping, even when I have no specific plan for them, even when they cost a small fortune (in New Zealand, where I currently live, avocados cost as much as $4 for just ONE in the winter).

So I try to be mindful to use them up when they ripen. One of my favorite recipes for using avocados is The Barefoot Contessa’s Guacamole Salad and I make it often, with some small tweaks.

But I wanted to take this favorite side dish and up the ante a bit by making it into a meal. And what better way to make it a meal than by adding quinoa to it?

I’ve loved quinoa ever since a friend’s mom introduced me to it eons ago (before it was popular) and still love it, even though it’s no longer the most popular “superfood” in town. While I don’t buy the “superfood” premise, I do love the high protein content, the yummy nutty flavour and texture that quinoa has and I like to incorporate it where I can.

But I digress…here is the recipe!

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1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 cup vegetable or chicken stock

1 can of kidney beans

1 can of sweet corn

2 tomatoes, medium diced

1 pepper, medium diced (any colour, but I find orange makes the salad look prettiest)

2-3 tbsp small diced fresh or pickled jalapeno pepper

1 bunch coriander/cilantro, chopped (optional – I adore cilantro but I know that not everyone does – still a yummy meal even if you opt to not use it).

1/4 cup olive oil

Zest of one lime

Juice of 1-2 limes

Cayenne pepper sauce to taste (I like to use Frank’s Red Hot – and usually put 3+ Tbsp of it, but we like it pretty spicy! 1 – 2 Tbsp is enough for most people who like just a little kick)

2 Haas avocados, large diced

Salt & pepper to taste



  1. Combine quinoa and stock in a small pot, cover and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all liquid is absorbed.
  2. While quinoa is cooking, combine beans, corn, tomatoes and peppers in a medium bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl (or glass jar), combine olive oil, lime zest, lime juice and cayenne pepper sauce.
  4. Once quinoa is ready, add to the veggies and toss with the dressing. Fold in avocado and add salt and pepper.

Makes about 2-3 dinner sized servings.

This dish is yummy served while quinoa is warm but is also excellent chilled. I’ll often double the recipe just to make sure I have left-overs for lunch the next day.

Marital Money Counselling – 4 Financial Issues that all couples need to be aware of

A friend of my sister’s, who is a newlywed, recently told me she really loves this blog (thanks!) and asked me to do a post on financial issues for newlyweds.

Given that money problems are the #1 cause of stress in a relationship and the #1 cause of divorce/relationship breakdown, this is definitely an issue that couples should tackle right away. To be honest, I think talks about money issues should happen before taking the walk down the aisle, however I do believe that there are always going to be disagreements about money – and it’s good to have a strategy in place to deal with them as they come up.

Here are some financial issues that I believe that all couples – whether getting married or already so, should discuss:

  1. Financial background

Especially if you are older and have supported yourself, disclosing your financial background to each other is a must. Do you have any debts your partner isn’t aware of? How much have you saved, how much have you invested? Have you ever declared bankruptcy? Coming clean about where you stand financially is incredibly important, just like coming clean about your sexual past and medical history are.

Next you need to come up with a way to pay off any debt you have. And if you have a problem with taking on your partner’s debt and incorporating it into your lifestyle, this is a red flag that you shouldn’t be getting married, or at least not yet. If your spouse has a lot of debt – for whatever reason – you need to be able to let go of any resentment from the beginning, because otherwise it will kill your relationship.

2. Financial administration

Do you plan to pool your finances or keep them separate? Personally, I think once a couple makes a commitment to one another, whether it’s through marriage or starting a family or whatever, I really feel that pooling your finances and treating all money as “ours” (vs. “mine” and “theirs”) is the way to go. Even if you start off earning the same amount, this WILL change over time.  It would be a red flag to me if my partner was possessive over the money he makes. Because what happens if one of you loses their job? What if one of you gets a huge raise? Gets sick and can’t work? Takes a step back in their career to care for children, or elderly parent? It can get very complicated and create a weird power struggle too. I hope if you get married, you plan to be so for life and I can’t see a situation where each partner has to “pay their own way” through it will work in the long run.

In my opinion, once you decide to marry/start a family you are in an equal partnership. Who earns what is not important – it becomes what the family earns and what the family spends and both partners should have equal say. A great place to start this is by checking out my budget guide.

Now, I’m not saying that couples shouldn’t have any of their “own” money – some people like to have their own account and have an agreed upon amount set aside for them to spend on whatever they want (whether its for being able to surprise their partner with a gift or buy themselves something frivolous without feeling guilty). As long as this is fair (just because the husband “earns” the money doesn’t mean he should get $1,000 per month “blow money” while the stay at home mom gets $20) and that both agree on it and revise it periodically to make sure it is still working for the family situation.

I do recommend one person being “in charge” of managing the finances but making sure they touch base with the other person on a regular basis to keep them up to date.

The ONE exception to this is if you marry a person/start a family and realize later that they have a problem with money (gambling, excessive spending etc) and you need to separate your finances to protect the family. But this is a huge red flag and should be dealt with with the same seriousness  as an alcohol addiction or drug addiction would be.

3. Financial support of other family members

I think it’s really important to discuss who you, as a family, are willing to provide (and accept!) financial support from. For example, some people strongly believe that parents should pay for their kids post-secondary education while others believe kids should make their own way.

This becomes an especially tricky subject when one family is in a worse financial situation then the other (say your family are super-duper wealthy, but your in-laws are barely scraping by).

What about helping parents who are in a worse financial situation? Siblings? What kind of help are you willing to provide? A one-time loan? A lump sum gift? An allowance? Obligation to pay for a specific bill for a specific period of time (or indefinitely)?

Look, you don’t have to agree right away but you will need to compromise at some point. Maybe you agree to help your kids by paying their tuition but they need to come up with living costs on living. Maybe you agree to pay your parent’s medical insurance or for their utilities but not give them a lump sum to pay off their mortgage. Maybe you pay for your brother-in-law to fly over for Christmas but you don’t offer to pay off his credit card (even if you can afford it).

Whatever you decide though, you need to remember that you and your spouse have to come first and that you need to be able to afford the help you are providing. Under NO circumstances should YOU be going into debt to pay for your child’s university or to pay off your sister’s car loan or paying your mother-in-laws mortgage. You should not be sacrificing your savings or retirement to pay for your daughter’s wedding.

In any case, whenever you are faced with a family member in need, you both need to sit down and come up with a plan that you are both ok with and you need to stick to it.

4. Financial personalities and importance of communication

Remember that at the beginning especially, there may be some conflict and coming to terms terms with your partner’s money personality. That’s ok! But hopefully the person you are with has similar values and goals so you shouldn’t be too different when it comes to being responsible with money.

There will often be one person who is more of a “spender” and one more of a “saver” (if you are both “spenders” it is that much more important you both learn to stick to a budget). It may also be hard on someone who has been managing their money themselves for a long time to share that power and suddenly need to have to discuss purchases they wouldn’t have thought about in the past.

So I highly recommend sitting down periodically and discussing things that are important to each of you and make sure you work them  into your budget.

If you want to travel and your husband loves having a new car every few years, figure out how much you can realistically afford and if it meets your overall long term goals. Do you want to buy a house? Retire at a certain age? Pay for your kids university? You may have to compromise on things that you want and you both need to be on the same page about what those compromises will be.




6 things worth going into debt for when you have a family – and 3 things that AREN’T

First of all – apologies for not updating this blog for such a long time! I’ve had some major life changes (moved from Canada to New Zealand, pregnant with my 3rd baby, enrolled in a university course…) so it’s taken a while to find my footing again.

Anyway, I was talking about financial priorities with a friend recently and we were debating whether there are any purchases worth going into debt for. My first instinct was NO, there is NOTHING. I don’t like debt as a general rule.

But then I started thinking – I do have some debt (mortgage) and that’s worth it (more below). And I also know that there are somethings that really are more important than money. So, are there some things worth buying, even if they mean going into debt? Yes and here is my list:

  1. Life/Disability Insurance

Even if you are struggling to make ends meet, I really think that having adequate life and disability insurance is a MUST for someone who has a family. In my opinion, families should have life insurance coverage that would cover living and housing costs for 10 years at the very least.

If you earn a lot of money, you should also consider how much money your family would be missing out on if you died or became disabled. For some professions, the disability portion maybe even more important to look into. For example, if you are say, a dentist, you need your hands to be functional to make a living, so even a minor accident can devastate you if you are no longer able to perform your job.

Tip: The younger/healthier you are when you get it, the cheaper your premiums for a long time.

2. Health Insurance

If you live in a country like Canada, where there is universal health care coverage (i.e. paid for by the government), then additional health insurance is gravy – usually something that covers dental care, vision care, massages etc – and is something many employers provide. If you don’t get this extra health insurance, it’s not that big of a deal but still worth looking into.

But if you live somewhere where the isn’t universal health care, like the US, please, please get health insurance. Put it as a priority even above life insurance. Put your monthly premiums on your credit card if you have to. Because medical bills are the #1 reason people go bankrupt in the US. Just one adverse medical problem can devastate a family overnight.  And I’m not talking about a cancer or a major disease diagnosis, but normal life things like birth or accidents can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, even insurance is no guarantee that you won’t be faced with high deductibles or some out of pocket expenses, however hopefully the brunt of it will be taken care of by the insurance.

If you live in a country that has a two-tier system, like New Zealand, I’d still consider getting additional health insurance especially after seeing the benefits of having it with a family member who was diagnosed with cancer recently.

3. Marital/Relationship Counselling

Divorce/separation is expensive – not just the actual cost of divorcing (legal fees etc), but the aftermath as well. Going from two incomes to one income to support pretty much the same sized family is tough (or having one income support double the living expenses). Not to mention the emotional cost and psychological cost that a divorce has on the children.

As such, I highly recommend that couples seek counselling prior to officially separating and really trying to work on the issues the counsellor identifies. This may take more than one or two sessions so it is important to be patient. But you married/started a family with that person for a reason and it was likely very legitimate! Hopefully a bit of guidance can help you get back to the way you were.

Even if you still choose to separate afterwards, I think that attempting counselling can be good for closure (you tried everything) and you may get tips on how best to go forward to minimize the negative effects on your family (which can have a huge effect on your financial situation).

Counselling doesn’t have to cost a lot either – there may even be great free options at a church or community center.

Of course there are certain situations where divorce is really the best option. But I believe only extreme cases warrant a divorce without an attempt at fixing what is broken.

4. Mortgage

A mortgage is debt – make NO mistake about this. And it can be bad debt if you buy a house that you can’t afford. But it can also be good debt. Good if your mortgage (and other home-ownership costs) can be managed comfortably in your budget (see here for my recommendation on how much of your budget should be allocated to your housing costs). Good if you buy at a time when prices are on their way up (thus creating equity). And good if owning a home is an important life goal for you (it isn’t for everyone, so for those people, buying a home may NOT be the best idea) and you are at a point in your life where you are up for the responsibility.

5. Car loan

A car loan is debt. For some reason, I’ve met many people who seem to think that their car payment doesn’t count. Sorry, but yes, if you have an obligation to pay for your car – whether it is to the dealership, a family member or the bank, it is debt. And yes, a lease is debt too!

However, in this day and age, having a car is pretty important – especially if they need it to get to work (and especially if public transportation options are not available, very limited or plain inconvenient). So I think going into debt to buy a car is usually totally acceptable. That said, I don’t think going into any amount of debt is justifiable – and I discuss how to determine what a reasonable amount for car ownership/lease is in greater detail here.

There were some other things that I considered and things that I’ve seen mentioned on Facebook or whatever as worth going into debt for.

But I disagree –  here are some of the things that did NOT make the cut:

  1. Travel to make memories

Sorry, but going into a lot of debt to “create memories” is not a good reason. You can make memories with your family by organizing a great “stay-cation” and exploring your home town, choosing cheaper activities (camping vs going to a resort), cheaper travel methods (driving vs flying) and my favorite, SAVING for trips. These are the best way to really give your family experiences and creating memories because you will be doing so without the stress and burden of debt.

In my mind, the only exception for going into debt for travel is for something like visiting a loved one who is sick or dying or perhaps attending a funeral.

2. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences

OMG – the Rolling Stones/[Insert your favorite band or singer] are coming to your city! Tickets are expensive but it’s their LAST TOUR.  You HAVE TO GO.

No, no you don’t. If you don’t have the money saved, don’t go into debt. Its not worth it. Unless you can squeeze it into your budget or take away from an unnecessary category (for example, taking from your vacation budget or forgoing going out for dinner for your next three date nights), then sure, go for it. But if you really don’t have the money to pay upfront for those tickets, it’s NOT justifiable.

3. AH-MAZING sale or offer

Recently I went to the jewellers to get a ring I have fixed. It had a design flaw and the stones on it were always loose – I even lost the centre stone one time (luckily found it) and I was worried it would happen again. I had avoided wearing it for fear of losing a stone again so when I noticed that the jewellery store had a policy where you can “upgrade” your jewellery by trading in your older piece for a new one, if the new one was more expensive, I decided to look into it.

At first, this seemed like a great deal. Not only could I use the value of my ring as credit towards my new item, the manager at the store offered me a further discount. I’d be getting a way bigger stone ring, worth $3,500 and would ONLY be out of pocket $900.

Except $900 is a lot of money. And even though we actually HAD the money was this really something worth doing? Did I NEED a more expensive ring? A ring that I didn’t even know existed until that day?

No. I didn’t. Other than the opportunity to get a nice piece of jewellery for a great price (it really was a great price), there was no benefit. Especially when I did the math and realized I’d have to lose and replace the loose stone of my original ring like 6 times before I’d be out of pocket $900.

This applies to everything – whether it’s a handbag you’ve been coveting, a great deal on an appliance or whatever, if you don’t have the money saved for it, it’s NOT WORTH going into debt for. Because at the end of the day, if you are paying interest on it, you aren’t *really* getting a deal. And remember, these deals come around again and again you will have plenty of opportunity to take advantage of them in the future. My advice? If you really, really, really want it, start making it a priority to save for it!


Green Bean Niçoise Salad

In an effort to get healthier and lose some weight, my husband and I have really tried to cut way back on processed carbs, like bread, pasta, rice etc. We still eat carbs, just try to get them from whole foods more, like fruits and veggies and to be able to indulge in our favourite treats (for him, beer and for me, wine and chocolate). My husband has lost over 40 lbs and has kept it off for almost 6 months and counting! I was able to lose about 10 lbs and I’m finding it much easier to maintain so it has become our new lifestyle.

Tired of lettuce based salads I decided to do a take on the traditional Niçoise Salad. I love to make it for lunch for myself or even as a dinner for my husband and I (I just beef it up by adding an extra hard-boiled egg). This salad also is delicious as a left over, so I will often make a double portion to keep for the next day.

Niçoise salad


1 bunch of green beans (approximately 2 fist-fulls)

1 large tomato, medium diced

10-15 olives (I like using a mixture of green and black olives

1 can of tuna

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Sea salt & pepper

¼ C crumbled feta cheese

1-2 hard-boiled eggs , quartered

Serves two.


  1. Wash and trim green beans. Cook by throwing into boiling water or steam for 2 or 3 minutes, so that they are still firm and crispy. Drain and place into a medium sized mixing bowl.
  1. Add chopped tomatoes, olives, can of tuna (I like pole and line caught tuna). Toss.
  1. Pour over olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, then toss again.
  1. Add crumbled feta and fold in gently.
  1. Plate the salad on to two plates and top with hard-boiled egg. I like to use a whole egg per person if I am serving this as a dinner and ½ an egg per person if serving it as a lunch.

Don’t fall for this small business tax trap – and tips on how to avoid it

There are many benefits to owning your own business – you are the boss, your hours are more flexible (though on average, small business owner work more than regular employees) and you can often make more money.

The reason you can make more money or at least, running your small business can be positive financially, is because of the things that you can expense (read: reduce your profit and pay less tax) through your business that you can also use outside of your business.

However, some people take it too far and end up expensing way too much – and get caught with serious consequences.

It can be exhilarating to know that as a small business owner you can legitimately expense things you need and use everyday anyway – things like your car, your cell phone and – if you work from home – even a portion of your mortgage interest. As these are things that you often need to run your business, they can be written off as a business expense.

But some people cross the line from grey to black. One friend, a successful small business owner, admitted to me that he and his two business partners had a very good year and realized that their company will need to pay a lot of tax. So they decided to buy some extremely expensive designer suits (at a cost of $10,000 a pop!) and expense them as “uniforms” to reduce the total profit to bump them down into a lower tax bracket. Sounds like a great idea, right? Except that the tax authority caught on right away and not only did they have to pay the tax, they were slapped with a fine – and they weren’t able to return the suits!

This is a trap that many small business owners fall for, and I think the worst offenders are people who run small businesses that are closer to hobbies or are part of a multi-level-marketing type business because they often don’t understand what is reasonable to expense and what isn’t.

Here are some expensing tips to avoid being audited and potentially hit with major fines.

1. Expense reasonable things.

Even if you don’t always or only use the items for your business, there are many expenses that we have that are considered reasonable to expense through a business.

These are things that a person would reasonably use for their business. For example, if you are a physiotherapist that does house calls, expensing your car payments and gas is reasonable even if you also use that car for personal reasons. Bought a bunch of stamps that you mostly used to mail Christmas cards to your family and friends? That’s ok too as having postage is a reasonable thing for any business to need (even if you mostly communicate with your clients via email). Expensing flights to Hawaii as a travel expense? Not reasonable because why would a physiotherapist need to go to Hawaii (unless maybe it was for a conference related to your field of work)?

2. Make sure the expense amount is reasonable. If you are a part-time real estate agent that sells two or three houses per year, its reasonable to expense four or five $200 bottle of champagne (even if you ended up drinking some of those yourself) as a marketing expense. It would not be reasonable to expense 50 bottles worth. Why? Because its reasonable for an agent to give a thank you gift to her clients and buying four or five bottles seems like a reasonable amount (you might want to give awesome clients two bottles for example). But if you only sell about two or three house it might be difficult to make the argument for why you needed so many bottles of champagne that year.

This also applies to how much of an expense you allocate to your business. Things like car payments, cell phones, home office expenses etc are reasonable to expense in full only if you use them mostly for your business. But if you sell Arbonne cosmetics on the side and do a couple shows per month, its not reasonable for you to expense 100% of your cell phone bill or your entire internet bill.

Look at your bills and try and gauge how much you use for your business. It doesn’t have to be exact (no one is going to throw you into jail if only 8% of your cell phone minutes were used calling customers but you expensed 10% of your cell phone bill). Another good way to determine reasonable allocation is based on the time you spend on your business. If you spend about 20% of your time working on your business (cold calling customers, following up on appointments, administration etc), then expensing everything that would be reasonable to spend on your business at 20% is fair.

3. Keep receipts for everything. In my books, if you don’t have the receipt, don’t claim the expense. If its a major expense (say you bought a new computer) and lost the receipt you can get away with potentially using a credit card statement as evidence (so a $1,500 charge on your credit card from the Apple store might be sufficient) if you are audited, but I would fall back on this as exception rather than a rule.

But keep receipts for the small ticket purchases too – people often get caught up in the big ticket items and forget that small legitimate expenses add up. For example, did you take a potential client out for coffee? Buy a thank you gift for that couple that recommended your services? These are legitimate expenses (though remember, food and entertainment can only be claimed at 50%) even if they are only $5 or $10 each.

4. Remember that there is an expectation of profit. Look, the government is aware that most small business owners will expense things that they will use personally and they will turn a blind eye if its reasonable because its not worth their time (or money) to verify, for example, that every cell phone conversation is related to your business and every item purchased at Staples is in your office cupboard. But you, as a small business owner, have to show that its worthwhile for you being in business and that you are making (or are close to making) a profit from your business. Generally, if you don’t start showing a profit after two or three years of business, you will be at much higher risk of being audited and having your expenses declined – even if they are legitimate.

Remember a good rule of thumb to follow is one that my dad (a CA and business owner) gave me.

It is that you can be a pig – but not a hog.

Why? Because pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered 🙂

Tomato Avocado Salad

As a busy mom, I love having tasty recipes on hand that are quick and easy to throw together for lunch or dinner.

This is one that I love because it takes minutes to do and tastes delicious.

Tomato Avocado Salad

2 – 3 large tomatoes (I like beefsteak tomatoes), large diced
2 large avocados, large diced
½ large white onion, medium diced
½ C sour cream or plain yogurt
Salt & pepper

Combine tomatoes, avocados and onions into a large bowl.

Fold in sour cream. Salt and pepper to taste.


Tip: Use the most flavorful tomatoes you can find. Also, this salad does not keep too long, so it’s best to prepare right before eating and serve right away – which is no big deal since it’s so quick to make!

Stay at Home Jobs for Stay at Home Moms

Having a parent stay at home with the kids is a decision that many families will contemplate. One of the main factors in the ultimate decision is often whether or not that family can afford for one parent to stay at home (which I did a post on here).

And sometimes, all it takes to make it work is a bit of extra money – whether to pay for essential expenses or just to have for extras. So I thought I’d list out some ideas for jobs that a parent can do while staying at home with their child or children.

But before you get too excited, its important to be realistic. These are great ideas to earn a bit of extra money. Unfortunately, none of these are going to make you rich or replace your salary, especially if you were in a professional, post-university level type job.

The reality is that if you want to earn that kind of money, you can’t also take care of a child full time at the same time. You just can’t – either your job or your child or (most likely) both will suffer. And anyone or job offer that claims you can make thousands of dollars with little effort, little  time and no skills all from home is 100% a scam.

Some of the ideas I list below could potentially make you a lot of money, but will require the type of time and focus that an out of the home, full time job demands and you would have to make a choice to get childcare or forgo that potential. However, they are also the type of jobs that you can do on a small scale to make that few hundred dollars a month to give your family budget some breathing room.

1. Multi-level marketing

One job that a stay-at-home mom can easily swing is a MLM (multi-level marketing) type job. This is a job selling a product (make-up, jewellery, supplements etc) to friends, family and later a group of customers directly. Its a growing industry with MLM companies Stella & Dot, Arbonne, Avon, Scentscy and many, many more gaining a lot of prominence and respect. However, while an MLM job can definitely make you some money to add to the family coffers, this is definitely not a job that is right for everyone. I did a post on this, check it out here.

Very flexible Often involves a large start-up cost, and costs can get out of control
Can be a lot of fun if you are a social person Once you exhaust “low hanging fruit”, new customers may be hard to find
You can get great products for a good deal To make a lot of money, you need to treat it like a full-time job

2. Etsy

If you are crafty, Etsy can be a great way to make some money. The key is to pick a specialty (i.e., if you are a great knitter, instead of having a knitting shop, perhaps concentrate on just one or two things) and focus on being really good at it.

I found this great article that goes into more detail on how to make money on Etsy.

Very flexible Often involves a large start-up cost
Can lead to a great small business Lots of competition
Creative outlet It can take a while to make money while you build your reputation

3. Photography

Pretty much anyone with a decent camera can be a photographer. Obviously, you can’t become a professional photographer overnight and charge $5,000 a shoot, but with the countless courses available both online and at various community centres, blogs and websites, I really think anyone can learn enough “tricks” to be a decent photographer and make some extra money doing family portraits for Christmas or to take pictures at birthday parties.

Easy to get started if you have a decent camera Lots of competition, may take a while to build portfolio and referrals
Good creative outlet Not very steady or regular
Could potentially earn a lot if you build good reputation Good equipment is expensive

4. Home day care

Of all stay-at-home mom jobs, this one has the potential to make the most steady money. The trade off is that you have to be home (so a lot of the SAHM lifestyle that is the reason that many moms/dads want will need to be sacrificed) and you are pretty much working all day caring for other kids as well as your own. However there are ways to have both –  I know one mom, for example, who only does before and after school care – her own kids are school aged so she just walks all the kids in her care to school in the morning (she lives just a block away) and picks them up after, but has the school hours to herself.

Can make a decent amount of money Can’t just hang out with your own kid – need to focus on caring for other children (which can be overwhelming)
Can expense a lot of stuff you buy for your kids Not very flexible
Your child has playmates during the day Lots of licencing and regulatory requirements that need to be met

5. Home Baker

If you love baking/cooking and have a signature dessert or dish, you may want to see if any local cafes or restaurants would like to buy your goods on a regular basis. You could easily prepare the batter or do prep like chopping or measuring of ingredients in the evening after the kids are in be and then preparing early in the morning. A local coffee shop that I frequent hires a university student to makes these amazing salted caramel brownies for them – she makes one large batch everyday and delivers them in the morning when they open. It probably doesn’t pay her tuition but maybe pays for books! Another option would be to have a home bakery business – all you need is a Facebook page – and offer to make goods for special events.

Fairly small time commitment Early mornings may be required to have everything ready for delivery
Small start up costs Won’t make you too much money on a small scale
Fairly flexible Highly dependent on your location

6. Blogging

Ok, I’ll be honest, this is a very difficult way to make money. So far, I’ve made a whopping $1.54 from Amazon Affiliates sales but this blog costs me $26 a year to maintain so I’m actually in the red (ironically), so its a good thing my only intention with this blog was for me to have a creative outlet and not to make money.

However, for those interested, the way bloggers make money is from Amazon affiliate sales (you recommend items that can be bought at Amazon that are linked back to your blog account and you get a commission), advertising revenue (which is dependent on your site traffic) and if you get good enough that people or other sites pay for you to write for them. While its a bit of a long shot, if you are a great writer and have a unique perspective on a popular topic to really make yourself stand out, you may be very successful.

No start-up costs Can take a long time to many any money
Very flexible Requires a large time investment
Great creative outlet May be hard to come up with content

7. Dog walker

While you have a baby you can wear in a sling or carrier, this might be a good option to get some exercise and make a few dollars as well. Depending on the area, you could make a good $50 a day walking dogs. It gets complicated when you have to push a stroller or have a toddler that naps during prime dog walking times, but its something that pretty much anyone can do and can do immediately.

Small time commitment and very flexible Not easy once you have a child that can’t be worn
No start up costs Location dependent for how much you can charge
Get exercise You will cap out on how much money you can make very quickly

8. Consulting

This is another area where you can potentially make a lot of money with a small-ish time commitment, however you need to be a subject matter expert or professional whose expertise is in demand. Again, though, any project you take on will likely need several consecutive hours of commitment so you may need to have a sitter or family member who would be willing to help out during those times.

Can be a great way to make a lot of money in a short time Need to be a subject matter expert or lots of experience
Can pick and choose when you want to work More like a part time job (will need to put in several consequtive hours in a row when on a job)
Keeps your skills sharp in the event you want to return to work full time May end up taking up more time than you want to devote

Lettuce Fajita Cups

My husband and I have adapted to a low(ish) carb diet life style (the “ish” is because we do still eat all veggies, fruits and have carbs occasionally) and its been working very well for us. My hubby has lost 35lbs (and counting!) since we started this in December and I’ve lost about 12lbs (though I definitely cheat more than he does).

Anyway, one struggle is coming up with fun things to eat for dinner and we miss certain high carb things that we used to make all the time, like fajitas. But I was feeling creative today and came up with this recipe and am thrilled with the result. And as always, this yummy dish is super cheap to make AND healthy to boot.

Lettuce Fajita Wraps


2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 medium Spanish or yellow onion, sliced into thin strips

1 large avocado, medium diced

1 lb chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips

¼ C water

½ C shredded cheese (I like aged cheddar)

1 head of Boston lettuce, separated into individual leaves

3-4 Tbsp Taco/Fajita seasoning (I use this recipe but you can easily use a prepared fajita or taco mix packet)

Hot sauce (optional)

Salt & pepper


  1. Heat oil on medium-high in a large pan.
  2. Add sliced chicken breast and season with salt and pepper, then sauté for 5-7 minutes or until chicken starts browning.
  3. Add sliced pepper, onion, taco/fajita seasoning, water and mix. Simmer for an additional 5-7 minutes.
  4. Arrange lettuce leaves on a plate and sprinkle each with cheese. Spoon on the chicken/pepper/onion mixture and top with a few pieces of avocado. Season with hot sauce & enjoy!

Makes about a dozen (depending on size of lettuce leave). Good main for 2-3 people.

Disney World on a Budget

The happiest place on earth!

The happiest place on earth!

One of the most fun trips we’ve had as a family was when we were moving back from Australia to Canada five years ago and we decided to do a two day lay over in Los Angeles, California. We decided to get a hotel next to Disneyland and go there for a day. Our son was only 2.5 years old but we had an amazing time.

The memories from that great day made us want to make a trip down to Disney World one day and we decided that it would be great to escape a week of the bitter Canadian February and drive down.

But when I started researching the trip it hit me that Disney World is EXPENSIVE and the costs can quickly get out of control. So I wanted to make sure that I did all I could to keep those costs in check (though, but I also learned some additional things that I could have done better along the way.

1. Consider driving. As a family of 4, flying is starting to get expensive. Flight from Toronto to Orland would have cost us over $2,200 plus taxis to and from the airport. Also, while the hotel we stayed at had a shuttle to the parks, it wasn’t very frequent and having a car gave us the freedom to go to the parks at our leisure.

Meanwhile, driving down cost us about $300 in gas (yay for the drop in oil prices!), about $20 in tolls and $68 in parking (parking at Disney World is $17 per day). We also had a “Peace of Mind” service done on our car ($75) and because we were driving down to the US, we bumped up our liability insurance coverage amount (though I actually ended up with a credit to my account because it turns out that having winter tires saved us 5% off our premium and that offset the additional liability costs).

The drive took us two days each way requiring two extra nights at a hotel, however we had a free night voucher to Marriott when we signed up for a Marriott Visa points card and we picked smaller cities where hotels were just cheaper (for example, on our way back we stayed at a Marriott in Louisville, Kentucky for only $89 with breakfast included) as our stopping points.

roatrip 4

Road trip nap

2. Consider staying outside of the park. Don’t get me wrong, staying at a Disney resort in the park must be awesome. But we learned the hard way on a trip to the east coast of Canada last year that we NEED two rooms in order to keep our sanity on these family trips (the kids would crash at 8PM and we would be stuck with nothing to do and nowhere to go) and a Family Suite at a Disney resort (which was a room with a separate bedroom) would have cost us over $3,800 for just 5 nights. Note this was the price I was quoted only a month before our intended travel time – perhaps it would have been cheaper if I’d planned it earlier.

However, Marriott (and other chains) has a line of hotels that have apartment style hotel rooms with a bedroom, living room and kitchenette for a fraction of the price (about $1,000 for 6 days) but because my husband travels a bit for work and he always stays at Marriott hotels and accumulates points, we had enough for 3 free nights by the time we left for our trip so that really helped us save money (we paid $600 in total for the 6 nights we stayed there). Plus breakfast was included, so that was another savings.

One thing that I DID learn though, is that if you stay on the resort you are entitled to a discount on the park tickets (up to 50% off!) but the $500 (yes, tickets for 4 days at the park for 2 adults and one child cost us $1,000 USD!) I would have saved didn’t make up for the higher cost of the room. This may be something to consider though, if you are going with just one child or are totally ok with sharing a room as a family.

Not bad for a "budget" option!

Our hotel – not bad for a “budget” option!

3. Buy your park tickets in advance – but be careful where you buy them! I was under the impression that I could get some awesome deals on the park tickets online somewhere. However, there are only a few legitimate sites (here is one I checked out) where you can buy tickets but I wasn’t able to get better deals than from the official Disney site at the time I was buying them. I also discovered the best deals on tickets are for those people who stay at one of the Disney resorts (though you don’t get the automatically – you need to arrange this yourself).

My mistake was that I started looking to buy them way too close to our trip date – I should have started looking several months in advance. Also, prices for tickets go up in February – so buy them before to ensure additional savings! But do be careful where you buy your tickets – there are a lot of scams out there.

4. Make a budget for souvenirs – and stick to it! One thing that struck me about Disney World and Orlando is that its half stores and restaurants. And boy, do people spend their money – and its not just for the kids! I’d say more than half the people (adults included!) I saw were decked out in full Disney clothing, hats, drink containers and clutching some sort of Disney toy/accessory. The boutiques and restaurants were packed every day (note: if you want to eat in a restaurant at the park, make reservations in advance) and we were there during the off season! Its easy to spend a fortune, so I definitely recommend a budget. I told myself that I’d budget $100 for souvenirs and told my oldest son that he could pick two things that were $20 or under each. We also decided only to get lunch at the parks and that we would eat breakfast (free) at our hotel and go off the resort for dinner (much cheaper).

Mickey hats were a must :)

Mickey hats were a must 🙂

5. Bring your own camera. Disney has photographers everywhere (and set up at great picture locations) and can take your picture for you with their camera AND yours. All the photographers took pictures with our camera and when I compared them to the “official” ones, they were very comparable. Which is great because an “official” Disney picture costs $15 (to download or to have printed).

6. Take a day off. Even though we stayed in Florida for six nights, we only bought park tickets for four days. This saved us almost $300 (though the more days passes you buy, the cheaper the price per day) but my main reasoning was that it would get overwhelming to go to the parks every day and that it would be nice to have a day off to just relax at the hotel, hit the pool with the kids and see what else Orlando had to offer. This ended up being a great idea because one day that we were in Florida the forecast was for rain – so we spent the morning by the pool and then in the afternoon (when it rained) we caught a movie.

We had a great trip but there are definitely things that I would do differently in the future – namely, start planning WAAYYY earlier! It can be very overwhelming and leaving things to the last minute can make the trip more stressful and not allow you to get as much out of it as possible.

If you are planning of visiting Disney any time soon, check out this other great blog I found when I was researching.

Bon voyage!