How to File Your Taxes Online in Canada

DesiraeLessons Learned, Resources, Tools6 Comments

How to file your Canadian taxes online.

I distinctly remember the first time I had to file my taxes online by myself.

I’d been graduated from university for almost a year at that point, and was working full-time. My mom, who rightly saw that I was (almost) a fully-functioning adult, was like, “Here are all your tax documents, and also my accountant isn’t going to file your taxes for you this year.”

Say. What.

I went straight to Google, since that’s how I make all of my important life choices (literally, it’s how I chose my robo-advisor and everything) and typed in “how do I file my taxes online in Canada”.

Out of all of the results, I picked one called SimpleTax, because it seemed like a reassuring name for a tax company.

You’re going to make this simple for me? Cool, I’m in, let’s do this thing.

So we did that thing.

And I had such a great, simple, easy experience that I’ve been filing my taxes with them ever since. Bonus: all of those past returns are literally at my fingertips thanks to their account history. I can download them anytime, which is so much easier than unearthing my tax shoebox.

Which no, I don’t recommend as a filing system.

To pay the easy-tax-filing forward, I’ve got everything you’ll need to know to file your taxes online in Canada right here. Because dear every millennial who’s currently freaking out about filing their taxes for the first time: it’s not that hard, I promise.

Step One: Recognize that you actually have pretty simple taxes

If you’re a millennial (like me!) and have a full-time job (like me!) and your financial life isn’t incredibly complicated?

Your taxes are going to be so easy.

Trust me on this, if you’re not full-time self-employed, if you don’t have a bonkers amount of taxable investment income, and if you have no dependents? You have all of the skills and knowledge you need to manage to file your own taxes.

Step Two: Find all of your documents.

Now, take this advice with a grain of salt, because I am the human who gets 80% through filing her taxes and is like “Shit, I totally don’t have ___________.”

There’s always something.

However, if you want to be extra-prepared, and knock out your taxes as fast as you can, you’ll want to get all of your key documents together ahead of time. Since I’m not a tax expert, I’ll leave making those lists to the tax pros, and you can consult this excellent PDF from Simpletax that lists everything you could possibly need to file your taxes.

And again, if your tax situation is pretty straightforward, you won’t even need half of those.

Step Three: Actually file your taxes online.

If you’ve ever seen a tax form, you know that – try as they might – they’re not especially intuitive or simple to use. That’s where Simpletax really shines. The interface is basically what you’d expect of a slick startup, except for taxes.

They walk you through everything, and all you need to do to find the forms you need to fill out? Search for them.

Here's how to file your taxes online in Canada, using a super-simple tool.

Seriously, this little search box is the tax assistant you’ve always wanted. From T5s to public transit to reporting your side hustle income, Simpletax has got you covered.

I walked through how you can file a simple, So-Millennial tax return in under ten minutes in this video, and literally three minutes of that is me being a goof on camera. If you think I’m exaggerating, or you want to see exactly how to file your T4, your charitable donations, your public transit receipts and your RRSP contributions, check it out.


PS. Yup, I totally wear glasses. Not a prop. (Lol can you imagine how awkward I would be with props though.)

Step Four: Sign up for MyAccount on the CRA website.

If you’re going for the extra credit, and you want to make life easier for future-you, signing up for MyAccount with the CRA is an amazing idea. It lets you do stuff like get your tax return direct-deposited into your bank account, and find important details about your taxes online for the next time you file.

Since I feel like everyone who reads this is all about the online tools, you should all probably go sign up ASAP. I mean, what else do we pay taxes for if not excellent online government services, right?

And I guess the in-person stuff is nice too. Love ya, healthcare.

Step Five: Pour yourself a drink, ’cause you’re done.

What?! Yeah. That’s literally it.

I remember the first time I managed to file my taxes by myself, and I’m not joking when I say I ran into my roommate’s room and made him high-five me. It’s one of those things that feels intimidating before you do it, but once you dive in, you realize it’s well within your skill level to file a tax return – which in turn makes you feel like a total money champion.

These days, and yes this is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever said, doing my taxes is actually something I look forward to every year. It’s a great way to take a look back on your money from the past year, and it’s basically just a puzzle with numbers. Who doesn’t love puzzles, right?

All of those warm, puzzle-loving feelings are channeled into my Simpletax account every year, so if you’re staring down tax season without an easy way to file? I got you fam. Well, Simpletax has got you, anyways, so what are you waiting for?

Get those taxes started!

Actual PS. This post was written in partnership with Simpletax, but all opinions are my own – as are the past four years of tax returns I’ve filed with them!

Four Ways to Be Good at Money That Don’t Suck

DesiraeLessons Learned, Lifestyle, Spending7 Comments

It doesn't have to suck to be good at money - here are four ways to make sure you handle your personal finances like a champ.

No, being good at money doesn’t have to suck – I know this from personal experience.

This week, The Financial Diet shared a post I wrote about how I survived on an entry-level salary without taking on debt, and how other people can do the same. It’s actually what I’m most proud of in my short personal finance life – how I handled my first salary and made it through while still saving money and avoiding credit card debt.

If I had started at a higher salary, those same tactics would have me on an early retirement path right now, but let’s put it this way: that’s not what happened.

I’m glad it’s not, too, because I learned a lot in the process.

In the spirit of real talk about money, I learned that being “good at money” really boils down to making tough choices.

But that sounds like the worst thing ever, right?!

Like oh thanks Des, yeah, just make the hard calls, that’s great advice.

That’s like, on the level of “just never drink a latte again.” Sure, personal finance nerds of all ages understand what the latte effect really is, but if you’re not checking out every money book at your local library, all you’ve probably heard is that one uncle chastising you because “he read that millennials are spending more on coffee than they are on retirement.”

Ugh.

Luckily, my second thought was that wait a minute: while sure, “make the tough choices to be good at money” is my general advice, and how I managed to survive my entry-level salary, almost none of those choices really felt like tough choices at the time.

Now that’s worth a second look.

You mean I made all the tough choices to allow me to save over 20% of my new-grad salary (THIS STILL BAFFLES ME HOW DID I DO THAT) and have somewhat of a life and live on my own, without debt – and most of the time, they didn’t feel that tough?

I sat with that for a while and realized that there were some key things I did – that surprise, I still do! – that helped me un-tough the choices that anyone would lecture you to make to be good at money.

Pro tip: It’s way easier to make those tough choices if they don’t feel tough.

Here are four ways to do exactly that: make the tough money choices, and be good at money, without it sucking the entire time.

Four ways to be good at money and personal finance that don't suck, and still let you live the life you want!

Step 1. Learn what matters to you

When I graduated, I was in the enviable position of living at home with a parent I super-got-along with, so there was no urgent need to move out.

If you didn’t count my commute.

Commuting is likely my least favourite thing in the world, and I’ve literally organized my entire life to avoid it on more than one occasion. My very first post-grad apartment was exactly that: a way to avoid a punishing commute from the suburbs.

So before I even started looking for a place and committing to a year-long lease, I knew that any apartment needed to hit a few key criteria.

  • It had to be within walking distance of my new job.
  • It had to be within walking distance of some kind of food retail establishment.
  • It had to be close to public transportation.
  • Oh, and it had to cost less than $500 a month.

Since I knew where I was going to be working, my location options were narrowed down significantly. Since I knew what I was going to be making, my transportation options were similarly limited (#BusLyfe). But all in all, I knew I’d be happy if I could find a place that hit those criteria – and when I found a place that fit that list, I took it pretty much sight unseen.

Literally, I think I spent all of three minutes in the apartment before deciding that yup, this was my new place, and maybe an extra 20 minutes making sure my new roommate wasn’t crazy.

To give you some context of just how much I prioritized the things that mattered, here’s an incomplete list of what this apartment didn’t have.

  • Level floors
  • Any wall that wasn’t puke green
  • A toilet that worked reliably
  • Fuses that wouldn’t blow at a moment’s notice
  • A stove more modern than the 1950s
  • A stove with an oven that could reliably hold the same temperature
  • A stove with more than two working burners
  • I really hated that stove

But you know what? None of those things was on my priority list, so I lived there joyfully for two whole years, and downright adored the fact that my reasonable af rent gave me the flexibility to live life on a new grad salary, and live without a car.

Tough choice? Not even kind of.

Step 2. Know your overall budget

I knew my transportation options – and my income – couldn’t justify a car when I was right out of school, which is partially why being able to walk to work was so freaking fantastic. Not having a car payment, or insurance payments, or commuting costs saved my budget and my butt literally every month when I could still afford to do things like eat. It was A+.

Even when I did eventually buy a car (to move out to the suburbs for #love and because I was promised a dog if I did) I knew that I couldn’t afford a bus pass and insurance and a car payment. It was two of the three for me, and bus pass + insurance were the two cheapest, which is why I ended up buying Little Car in cash that one time.

It’s easy to think you can afford A Thing when you look at it in isolation, and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone.

“Sure, I can afford another $160 dog training class just for fun!”

Yes, you probably can afford it, but if you’re making the decision without a clear view of everything else you need to pay for – especially the always-fun surprises? Things are going to be tight by the end of some months.

PS. The best way I’ve found to get that kind of clear view isn’t budgeting, either – it’s tracking my spending. Here’s how to get started.

Step 3. Don’t overcommit – just try things

You might be like shit, I don’t want to track my spending forever, that sounds awful.

So don’t!

Instead, maybe just commit to tracking your spending for like, a week. Pretend you’re doing one of those Refinery29 money diaries.

In a perfect example of not overcommitting, did you guys know that I cut my own hair? It’s probably still the most frugal thing I do by a loooooong shot, and it all happened because this one time, I tried it.

I had an awesome hairstylist who was super affordable, but I had read about other people who cut their own hair, and my legit reaction was, I can totally do that.

Plus I have long hair, so worst case, if I looked like a nutcase after taking the scissors into my own hands I could just run back to my hairdresser and ask her to fix it.

It turns out, I LOVE being able to trim my own hair

It saves me time, I can do it whenever I realize I’m looking a bit scruffier than I’d like, and because of my hairstyle (long layers) my mistakes are all but invisible (although I’m sure they’re there).

But trust me when I say, I don’t do it to save $40 on a haircut once every 3 or 4 months. Sure, it does save me that money, but I do it because I’m oddly proud of it.

Sidebar: I swear to god, my greatest dream in life is the day when someone notices a hair cut, and I say “I cut it yesterday!” and they go all Dad Joke on me and say “I think you mean you had it cut,” and I get to correct THEM. I dream big you guys. Real big.

Step 4. Figure out what’s right for you – not other people

For a long time, I was pretty wishy-washy on the whole saying-no-to-things-I-don’t-like front, and it hit me where it hurt. My budget.

But honestly, looking back, I’m going to give myself (and all of you!) a pass on that, because I’m going to look at it as “investing in learning about myself.” (Not the exact same concept as investing in yourself, but still valuable!)

For every time I literally couldn’t hear for days after accepting an invite to go out dancing at a bar, or every time I yawned my way through a late night out, or every time I attended a live music event, I’m counting it as a class in What Des Doesn’t Like Doing.

They were expensive classes, sure, but just like the expensive classes I took as part of my post-secondary degree, I’m going to call it a win in the long run.

Those four things – learning what matters to you, knowing your overall budget, not overcommitting and figuring out what’s right for you – are seriously some of the most impactful things you can do for your money without feeling like you’re Doing Money Things. (And if you do want a list of Money Things To Do, here’s one to start with!)

What do you think – is there any other non-sucky things you would recommend to help people be good at money? I’d love to hear about them, so like, hit me up in the comments, friends!

How (And When) to Start Online Banking

DesiraeSaving, Spending, Tools5 Comments

A step-by-step guide to help you start online banking

Sure, starting to bank online is A Thing I Recommend, but I’m not naive: I know it can feel like a pretty big step for a lot of people, especially since it can seem like this big black hole of “How?!” questions.

How do I actually sign up?
How do I switch over all of my stuff?
Should I switch over all my stuff?! (Nope, not always.)
How do I withdraw money?
How do I get cash?

So if you’re still stuck on step one of my ten things millennials need to do with their money – starting to bank online, even if it’s just a high-interest savings account – here’s literally everything you need to know. And yes, that includes when to keep your offline bank around, because there are just some things that can’t be done online.

Fun fact about me: I also have an offline bank account I happily pay for, because it makes my life so much simpler in very specific ways.

But hey, we’re here to talk about online banks – so let’s get started!

Step 1: Pick a Bank Based on Your Needs

Duh, right? Like, of course your first step is to pick the bank you want to sign up for – but when you start online banking, there’s one question you need to answer that will make your banking life a whole heck of a lot easier.

What do you need to use it for?

There are a lot of things banks do for us, and depending on who you are and how you use your bank, some online banking options will be a better fit for you than others. If you only really want online banking for the super-sweet interest rate on your savings account, that’s cool! And if you’re looking for a full-service, can-handle-all-your-banking option online, you’ll need to look at a wider range of things before choosing a bank.

Personally, my biggest worry with online banking was the cash thing.

I rarely use cash, but uh, you can bet that during garage sale season I don’t want to pay $2 every time I withdraw garage sale money – which is why I made sure my online chequing account with Tangerine had free ATM use at any Scotiabank before I dove in.

And speaking of bank fees, there might be some things you just can’t get, or can’t get easily, when it comes to online banking.

If you need a business account, or international banking, or certified cheques? You’ll want to plan for a combo platter of some online, some offline banking to handle your money. That’s what I do, because I need a US dollar chequing account I can easily access in Canada. That’s most easily done with an offline bank.

I made a quick checklist to help you figure out what type of bank you’re looking for, based on how you’ll need to use it.

A checklist of things to think about when choosing an online bank

That checklist is part of a printable worksheet I made for you guys, to help you take the stress out of this whole online-banking thing. Get access to the full worksheet to plan your own online banking adventure right here.

Switch to an online bank with this downloadable worksheet

Step 2: Sign up

Once you’ve picked a bank (or a combo platter of banks) that will hit all of your checklist of Things You Want From a Bank, it’s time to sign up for the online parts. Luckily, almost every online bank signup form will be…

  1. Totally in your comfort zone if you’ve ever signed up for an online service before
  2. Do-able from your couch and your sweatpants
  3. Done in under 10 minutes

Seriously, that’s it. How easy was that?

To make sure you actually commit to doing it this time (hi, I am the world’s biggest procrastinator, what up) set yourself a deadline to actually sign up.

Yes, in writing.

Yes, I think this step is so important that I included a portion of the worksheet to set yourself a deadline. (Grab your copy of the worksheet here.)

Start online banking, step two: set yourself a deadline

Step 3: Confirm your account-slash-identity

Since these banks are online, some of them need you to go a step further to prove sure you’re Actually You, not some anonymous internet troll. Banks aren’t into that, and since online banks are just as legit as regular banks, they have to hit the same standard of making sure you’re a real human as a Big Bank would.

You’ll probably have a few options to confirm your identity, and which one you choose will depend on the bank you’re signing up for and what they offer.

When I signed up for Tangerine, I had to deposit a cheque from my current, physical bank – but I could do it by taking a photo of the cheque on my phone, which was sweet. It turns out you can also go verify your identity at a post office, which like… the more you know.

And if you’re sitting there like ugh, cheques, whyyyyy, I feel you. But you gotta do it, so cool your boots with the cheque-hate, and accept that this is the price we pay for stopping money launderers.

Or like… not getting accused of being money launderers.

Step 4: Connect it to your existing bank accounts

This step might be part of the making-sure-you’re-a-real-human part of things, or it might be a separate step, but if you want to make the transition to an online bank easy-peasy, you’ll need to connect it to the account you use for your day to day banking right now.

Once you’ve done that, moving money to and from the online bank will be a piece of cake, and you’ll usually be able to see how in the pay-and-transfer options.

So no, you don’t need to worry about money getting stuck in the mysterious online “bank” – it’s just as easy to withdraw money as it is to put it in.

Step 5: Decide what you want to use it for.

Now here comes the fun part: deciding how much or how little you want to use your online bank right now. And pro tip: you can change your mind later!

If you chose the bank because it’s great for savings, the same reason I set up an account with EQ Bank, you’re pretty much golden. You’ve got your accounts linked, you should have no problem transferring money in and out, easy peasy. You can walk away with a solid A for online banking like some kind of millennial money rockstar.

If, on the other hand, you want to go All In and dive further into the world of online banking?

Follow me down, my friend. And don’t forget your worksheet, because this is where it gets beyond useful.

Switch to an online bank with this downloadable worksheet

Step 6: Transfer your recurring payments 

If you’re planning to switch most of your transactions to an online bank like I did, can I just say, kudos?! It’s great and I love it. But it’s also not something you need to, or should try to, do overnight.

Instead, you’ve got a few steps ahead of you to make sure it goes smoothly, and the first is to go back through your past few months of transactions and look at everything that came out of your account automatically. I’m talking bill payments, your gym membership, automatic savings contributions (because I know you must already automate your savings, right?!) and more.

Make a list of every single payment, because those are all going to need to be switched over. That might mean contacting the organization and updating your payment details, or just manually making the switch yourself if you can.

This is going to be the most tedious and time-consuming part of the whole process, I’m not even going to sugarcoat it.

If I were to shift everything over right now, I’d have to change my direct deposit payment info with my insurance providers (multiple), my fancy gym, multiple online services and Paypal. Those are all the payments that I’ve authorized to come directly out of my chequing account.

To make the process easier, grab that printable worksheet and the list you made of all of your transactions. Then, go through and make the shift to have them come out of your new account one by one – and for your own sake, keep track once they’re done.

Try to tackle one pre-authorized contribution every day until your list is fully moved over to your new bank.

Step 7: Get your recurring deposits moved over too

Now that you’ve got the money-for-other-people stuff sorted, you need to handle the money-for-you stuff, like paycheques and direct deposits of other kinds.

Since all of your recurring payments are going to come out of your new online bank account, you’ll want to make sure that your recurring money gets added to it ASAP as well. The big one for most people will be talking to HR, and having them switch your direct deposit info. Unless your HR department is besieged by the flu or something, this should be easily doable before your next paycheque hits.

If you’re self-employed, and you get paid from a variety of fun digital systems, make sure they’re all updated with your new chequing account details too. You go, HR-slash-everything department!

Step 8: Hold on to your regular account

Wait… am I actually advising you to hold on to your old bank account even though you just put all that effort into getting everything switched over?

Oh heck yes I am, and here’s why.

It’s a perfect safety blanket, and not only in the feelings way.

If you’ve potentially forgotten one lone direct deposit, or direct withdrawal, you’ll be happy when you don’t get hit with extra fees or miss a payment because you totally blanked on that one last thing. To avoid exactly that situation, leave a bit of money in your old account for at least a month just to make sure all systems are a go.

Plus, this gives you time to fall as in love with online banking as I have, and it means you don’t have to make any changes until you’re really sure about them.

Can I get a high five?

Well sure, here you go – but why?

BIUQhnM

Because friends? That was the last step.

You are the proud new owner of an online bank account that is fully, 100% functional.

Do you feel like a tech magician?! Because you should.

Ok, so maybe, quite possibly, you’re still at step one, because you didn’t do all of this while reading this post, or keep this tab open for months while you tackled each step. That’s cool. Here’s what you should do right now.

Download the printable worksheet to keep track of every step you need to take during your transition to an online bank, with places for you to fill in your own personal lists of transactions to switch over, bill payments to connect and more.

It’ll keep you hella organized, and make this entire process seamless no matter how far you want to take it, or which bank you want to switch to, or how much or little you want to use online banking.

Switch to an online bank with this downloadable worksheet

PS. If you want to listen to the story of how I got started with online banking, and then did all of my other money things, I’m over on the Mo’ Money Podcast with Jessica Moorhouse today! It’s one of my fave podcasts ever and I’m a little bit freaking out about it. 

In Praise of Weird Spending

DesiraeBudgets, Lessons Learned, Lifestyle, Spending24 Comments

Weird spending is probably the best thing you can do with your money - here's why.

There’s a whole range of ideas out there on how much you should spend on a thing – hell, I made an entire budgeting tool out of those recommended numbers – but honestly, the best spending you’ll ever do is weird spending. By weird spending, I mean spending that seems way out of line with what’s “normal”.

Uh, what?

Hear me out.

This all came up when I saw an infographic Statistics Canada published, which is a profile of the average Canadian and what they spent in 2015 on everything from housing costs to their pets.

An infographic about how much the average Canadian spent on different things in 2015

And if you know me at all, you know I took one look at that pet number and tweeted my disbelief.


This was my reaction because in a normal, nothing-special year, my dog ran me $3382.23 if you count his emergency fund contributions.

While it made for a pretty fun Twitter conversation, the truth is that even though I know that $590 is laughably lower than my own pet spending realities… I don’t care.

At all.

In Pursuit of “Normal” Spending

There was a time, years ago, when I would have seen this one graphic and been like, shit, I need to frugalize my life. Dog, you’re on a budget as of right now.

In fact, this is legitimately a thing I did with coffee when I started reading financial blogs, because everyone was all “Never spend money, and also make your coffee at home!” That’s normal for personal finance folks, so I took those things way too much to heart, and it resulted in that phase where I made coffee using a sieve and paper towels.

Yes, really.

Yes, I know it was nuts.

Yes, I have since bought a French press (this one) and it has radically improved my life.

But that’s what can happen when you run head-first into the financial blog-o-sphere (or into a StatsCan infographic) with no real understanding of how your spending makes your life awesome.

Back to Weird Spending

These days, I can sit back, peruse an infographic about what the average person spends, and my biggest, most forceful reaction is…  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

And it’s all because I know what’s up with my spending.

I’ve made a plan for my money, that yes, involves saving a ton right now, but also involves spending on the things that really matter to me. It wasn’t a fast process, and it did involve spreadsheets (specifically, the one in this post) but it was so worth it I can’t even tell you.

At its core, this approach all boils down to knowing what you want, and using your money to get it. And as much as the world is crazy, and a floppity jillion kinds of messed up right now, I think that’s still something worth pursuing.

See, one of the biggest benefits from a heart perspective that I’ve noticed from all the tracking my spending, and making a plan for my money, is that I know in a pretty exact way how much “extra” I have. (It’s a lot of extra, I’m very lucky, and am working with boatloads of privilege up in here.)

So when things Go Wrong, I know how much I can divert from both my regular spending, and my goals, to help out where it’s needed the most. I can do this with full confidence that it’s not going to seriously derail my money, and that my dog isn’t going to have to go without his dental food this month.

Plus, There’s The Whole Confidence Thing

When you work through building a plan to align your money with what really matters to you, be it dogs, or activism, or travel, or whatever – and I mean really work through it, month over month, in a trial-by-error kind of way – you come out on the other side with a much more confident view of your money, and your decision-making abilities.

So when you see an infographic that’s all, “The average Canadian donates $652 to charity every year” and you’re like… “Shit, I donated $60 (or $6000),” you can do so knowing it’s fully in line with what matters to you.

If it’s not, that’s another thing entirely. But if $60 is what you can realistically give in monetary terms, while keeping your life on track and putting your own oxygen mask on first? You can own that entirely, and understand that your spending does not need to be their spending.

Can we just pause and reiterate?

Your spending does not need to be their spending.

So if you spent $3382.23 on your dog, literally six times more than the average Canadian spends on pets, but you know you’ve made that one of your weird-spending priorities? You go, fellow crazy dog lady.

If You Aren’t Weird Spending, You Need To Be

Clearly, the first step in all of this is to figure out what your own priorities are, which can be daunting enough when you’ve had years and years of shoulds thrown at you by friends, the media and basically the world at large.

I’m not even talking about the Big Shoulds, like buying a house – I’m literally referring to the fact that I feel like, as a millennial, I should want to travel more, or I should want to live downtown.

But once you’ve got your priorities in place, and you know that Thing 1 + Experience 2 + Place 3 make your heart sing? Spend money on those things.

Yes, even if it’s more expensive than an alternative, as long as your budget can handle it.

Yes, even if it means not spending money on the things you’re supposed to like / have / want / be.

Yes, even if it’s seriously weird spending.

Because if something makes you over-the-moon happy, like my dog makes me? It probably needs a disproportionate place in your budget. And no average, or “normal”, or formula, or blog post, should make you feel bad about how much or how little that amount of spending is for you.

Weird spending just means you’re doing it right.

10 Things Millennials Need to Do With Their Money ASAP

DesiraeBudgets, Lessons Learned, Resources16 Comments

The 10 things millennials need to do with their money

Guys, this week is my birthday and I’m old af, so I want to share some of my Wisdom About Money with you. Specifically, the ten things every millennial should do with their money, ASAP – before they’re too old for people to consider them a “real” millennial anymore.

(Which can I just say, millennials as an age group range from 22 to 35, so every generalization about my generation can go die? I know millennials who make bank and have three kids in the suburbs. We’re all real millennials.)

In all seriousness, and all ranting about my generation aside, these ten things are the only ten I feel comfortable recommending to literally everyone, based on my personal experience.

When I’m actually an old lady, I will pull up this list in the VR chip embedded in my brain, complain about newfangled technology, and nod approvingly that I gave those young folk some good advice while I was still one of them.

Cause seriously, I’m not that old yet. How old did you think I was?!

Sorry. Birthdays. Here’s the list!

Start an online bank account.

I don’t care if you move everything over to an online bank to avoid bank fees (although I did that and I’m never going back you can’t make me) but you need at least one online bank account.

Why? Interest rates.

Your day to day bank is going to try to pitch you that 0.1% counts as a high interest savings account, and that is 100% bananas. You can get rates anywhere from 0.8% to 2.0% using online banks. Your savings deserves better than 0.1%. (I use Tangerine and EQ Bank, if you’re looking for options.)

DIY your taxes

(caveat: as long as you’re not self-employed, that shit is complex and you can use an accountant if you’re into that.)

OK, don’t panic, because this is so not as hard as people think it is. I’ve been DIY-ing my taxes for 5 years now, and it’s hands-down the best way to get a handle on what really happened last year with your money. On top of that, there are a ton of software options that can help make filing your taxes a breeze, and will make sure you get all the deductions that are coming your way.

I personally use SimpleTax, so if you’re a tax nerd like me and you want to get started, you can kick-start your taxes now (although you can’t file just yet, but they’ll save your progress).

Start investing.

If you’re like Desirae, we JUST opened an online bank account and did our taxes, can you freaking cool it with jumping feet-first into all these entirely new things?

No, no I can’t, because not investing your money when you’re young is a house-on-fire personal finance emergency.

You’ll almost never have the opportunity to invest money and then leave it in the market for 40 years again, and those 40 years are going to make you rich. For real. There are options that range from super-duper-beginner-friendly all the way to advanced-investors-only-plz, but there’s definitely one that’s right for you, and you need to find it, stat. (Start with this free five-day email primer on wtf is investing, even.)

Start, or keep growing, your emergency fund.

I know there are people who are all “a line of credit is a great emergency fund!” but hi, I am not one of them.

If I lose my job, or have a major appliance break down, I don’t want to make it even worse by taking on debt. That’s where my emergency fund comes in, and starting one is as easy as opening one additional savings account and set up an automatic contribution – which you can do with as little as $5, by the way.

When you end up needing it, you’ll be so glad it’s there.

Figure out the whole “insurance thing.”

Do you know how much insurance you have? And what kinds? And how much it covers? Have you compared your insurance rates recently?

You’re probably either closing this browser tab as we speak, or weeping. Sorry, that was a lot.

The thing is, insurance is basically your first and only line of defence between your current life and total economic disaster, so while it’s not especially fun to think about, you so need to. Think of it like grown-up homework: you don’t have to love it, but you do have to do it.

Here’s a fun look at all of the things I learned when I sat down to actually read my insurance policies. “That Desirae always has such fun ideas of things to do!” said literally no one ever, but it’s still important and you should do it too.

Get a handle on your credit.

If you’re in debt, you should know how much debt you have, what the interest rates are, and have a rough plan for how you’re handling it (ahem, please note I didn’t say getting rid of it. Make the right choice for your situation, friend.)

If you’re debt-free, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for this one, either. If you don’t know your credit score, you need to, and there’s no excuse because you can get it for free in Canada (finally). Grab it from Borrowell or RateHub now – it won’t impact your score to check it.

Spend money on things that matter – but not too much money.

If you’ve made it this far, TREAT YO’SELF.

No, actually.

Treat yoself

There is definitely such a thing as saving too much money, since money is just a tool we use to make our lives great. Which purchases, big or small, make your life better? You need a plan to make sure you can afford those things, within reason, because life is too damn short.

Save money for the things you want to do – but not too much money.

If your list of things that make your life great includes some big ticket items, you’ll probably need to save up for them alongside the things that will make Future You’s life great too (ahem, being able to stop working one day, aka retirement).

Figuring out how to use your limited savings money to achieve all those different things is tricky, but no trickier than balancing your spending money to cover your wants and needs. You got this. (Here’s a step-by-step plan to balancing your big money-and-life goals that I use and love.)

Make a plan for your money (aka, a budget.)

Ok, after all the hard work of figuring out how you want to spend your money, and how you want to save your money, this step should be easy.

Put those two things together, and presto manifesto, you’ve got a budget (surprise!) If something’s not quite adding up, try tracking your spending for a month to see where your money is really going, or just take 60 seconds to build a One Minute Budget.

Figure out all of those acronyms you’ve been avoiding.

Alphabet Soup was so much more fun and delicious than Alphabet Money, which is what the financial media feels like some days. ETF, RRSP, TFSA, CPP, EI…. omg. The thing is, those acronyms are all super important to understand at a basic level if you want to rock your money. (Here’s a millennial’s guide to the TFSA and the RRSP to get you started.)

I have to do all that? Halp.

These are all things that I’ve actually done over the past few years, and the things I want to help you do this year. That’s why I opened up the Half Banked resources library, because I plan on building a whole heck of a lot more guides this year, to help you do exactly these things – and more.

To make sure it’s helpful for literally you, I put together another round of the survey I did last summer, which lead to posts like how to make sure you don’t raid your savings account, and how to plan for irregular expenses, to help you guys with the actual, real-life stuff you’re trying to do with your money.

I want to do more of that! (The helping, not the doing the money stuff. Please don’t send me the login to your bank with a “help me” gif. I’ll laugh, but like, you can’t just throw that login stuff around like confetti. It’s not safe.)

So take the survey (and in case you’re on the fence, tomorrow is my actual birthday! This is legit the only birthday gift I want. Do ittttttt.)

Have you run into any challenges doing anything on this list? Or is there anything you’d add to the list as a must-do for your millennial money? Let me know in the comments!

Exactly Why (and How!) You Should Track Your Spending

DesiraeLessons Learned, Spending, Strategies, Tools25 Comments

Exactly why you need to track your spending - and how to do it, with a free spreadsheet.

If you’re like ugh, not another lecture about why you need to track your spending, bear with me: it’s actually way easier than most other things you can do to be “good with money.”

That’s because the first step to getting where you want to go with your money is knowing yourself, which includes everything from knowing when you spend money, to understanding why you spend money, to knowing how much you actually spend.

I don’t think anyone would really argue that those things are hella important if you want to make sure your money is helping you live the life you want (and if you do want to argue it, I’m @half_banked on Twitter, come at me).

But getting to know those things about yourself – what you spend, how much you spend and why you spend – isn’t exactly something you can do in an hour or a day (sorry friends).

On the other hand, it’s definitely not rocket science, and I know from personal experience it’s not as hard as you think it’s going to be.

And the real secret sauce to doing all of these awesome things for your money? You guessed it.

Tracking your spending.

I’ve been tracking my spending for just over 18 months now, and it’s freaking magical. And if you’re sitting there thinking that it’s going to be this massive change with your money, and you’re going to have to cut way back on everything? I see you, because I used to feel the exact same way – and I was dead wrong.

The best part of tracking your spending is that you can take it as far or as not-far as you want.

If you aren’t ready to majorly overhaul your spending and your money? Tracking is the perfect first step, because all you have to do is record where your money is going.

It’s like the money equivalent of counting calories, but still eating the Ben and Jerry’s.

Come on, we all do that.

If you want to take it a step further, and make some changes to your money while you’re tracking, have at it!

But it’s entirely optional, and I’d say that’s the bonus round of tracking. Save that for month two. (Or hey, week two. No one said you have to commit for a whole month!)

So how do I track my spending?

Here’s exactly how I’ve tracked my spending over the past 18 months – and the tool I’d suggest if you’re looking to start tracking yours.

Phase One: The Basics

When I first started tracking my spending, my spreadsheet was the basic bitch of spreadsheets. It literally had three columns: what I spent, what I saved, and what I earned. And you know what? That totally worked for me.

All I wanted to get out of that spreadsheet was a detailed look at where my money was going, and a total for my spending and my saving – so I could keep track of whether or not I was saving half of my income.

Phase Two: A Sort-Of Budget

Now, I never ever thought I’d keep tracking my spending after the first few months, but when January rolled around last year, I realized I had the secret sauce to making a Real Life Budget: I knew exactly how much I spent on different things every month.

Even though I never really stuck to a category-based budget before, I decided to set one up, but to base it on how much I actually spent on different things every month (like how much I spent on my dog every month).

I took a look back at my months of actual, real-life spending and savings, and used those numbers to build a rough plan for how I was going to spend my money going forward.

It was a good way for me to keep tabs on when I was spending drastically more on one type of thing, and know that I had to pull back on other areas.

Ugh, fine, OK, it was a budget, I hear it too. I’m in budget denial. But this isn’t about budgets! (Not really, anyways.)

Phase Three: Getting (A Little Bit) Automated

That spreadsheet, which was a glorified version of my first tracking spreadsheet with a few “budgeting” numbers thrown in, lasted me for a full year, and I used it from January 2016 until December 2016.

And true confession, I’d still be using it if it weren’t for a fateful email from an awesome internet friend.

She emailed to ask if I had a spreadsheet – or knew of one – that would automatically update totals of spending based on the category she spent money in. I didn’t, but like… I want that.

I want to go to there.

i-want-to-go-to-there

Because seriously, I cannot even tell you how long it took me to painstakingly go through each of my old spreadsheets and pull out the money I had spent on things like my dog, my blog and my car this past year.

No, I actually can’t tell you, because it makes me too sad. It was so many hours. Worth it, sure, but so many hours.

So I learned some Excel, and I made the thing!

Specifically, this thing: the Track Your Spending spreadsheet.

It’s a spreadsheet that combines the flexibility I loved from my basic bitch spreadsheets, where I could literally just list my spending as it happened, with the automatic calculations that would make my life a billion times easier – including keeping track of how I’m doing on the whole not spending a gazillion more dollars than I budgeted on my freaking dog (13/10 love that expensive dogger, would recommend).

You can grab your copy for Excel and Google Sheets right here, but once you get it… how do you use it? Your budget categories are probably different than mine, so you’ll want to customize it a teeny bit.

Here’s How to Use The Spreadsheet

Well, the first step is to put in all of your most important spending categories – and yes, “other” can account for a big part of your spending in the first month until you start to see patterns. It happens to the best of us!

Here's where you can edit the categories in the track your spending spreadsheet.

Once you write in your categories, you’ll find them poppin’ up in the drop-down menus under “Category.” Every time you add in a dollar amount and assign it to a category, wham bam, it gets added to your total for that category.

Here's where you'll find the categories in the track your spending spreadsheet.

Excel is freaking magical you guys I love it so much.

If you want to take it a step further, you can add in a budgeted amount for each category, but can I just say, that is so optional?

My best money learning came from just tracking my spending – not trying to change it, or fit it into categories that I thought I was “supposed” to spend a specific amount on each month.

So if you want to take a hard pass on budgeting, and just see where your money goes – no judgement?

I am on that team, fam.

If you’re in like Flynn, grab your very own copy of the Track Your Spending spreadsheet.

Get your copy of the track your spending spreadsheet.

Have you ever made the effort to track your spending manually before? Did you find anything surprising – or did it impact your money management? Let me know in the comments!

PS. Want to watch me break down my full list of fave money tools? I do exactly that in my latest video, which you should totally watch.