Let’s hear it for the cheap seats

Face off at centre ice

Yesterday, we watched two great hockey games. And it didn’t cost us a dime.

We cheered on the Queen’s University women’s hockey team to an 8-1 victory over Windsor at the Memorial Centre. There were only about 100 people in the stands.

Then we watched one of Grace’s friends, who plays competitive hockey take on Ajax. It was amazing to me even at that age (14), at that level, what great hockey it was. Kingston came out on top 2-1.

Entertainment costs today have spiralled out of control. According to Forbes magazine, the average ticket price for a Toronto Maple Leafs ticket is now $368.60, the highest in the league.

Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays announced they’d be hiking ticket prices for the 2018 season. 200 level seats within the bases will cost over $50 a ticket.

My brother recently attended the Canada vs. Finland World Junior Hockey game in Buffalo. They paid $120 a ticket and the stands were half empty.

empty hockey stadium

Every week I see Facebook posts of people who have taken their kids to $100 concerts.

It’s almost become cost prohibitive for a family of four to go to any of these events.

In every community, there are local sporting events and concerts for free or that are relatively cheap. You can also get much closer to the action.

Yesterday, I sat right behind the penalty box and Queen’s bench for a period of the game. It’s cool to see the interaction of the officials, coaches and players—you could hear all the conversations and see the coaching staff in action.

And unlike at a Blue Jays or Maple Leafs game where you’d pay $12 a beer and $8 a hot dog, we spent $4 for four bags of popcorn.

So let’s hear it for the cheap seats. If you like hockey, here are some cheap events coming up in our region:

  • The Carr-Harris Cup at the KRock Centre on February 1st—watch Queen’s take on RMC for just $12 a ticket
  • The Queen’s Women’s hockey team is taking on the Western Mustangs today (Sunday, January 21) at the Memorial Centre at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 each and a bag of popcorn is only a buck. You can check out all the Queen’s sports games at gogaelsgo.com. I’ve taken the kids to their basketball double header nights (women and mens) and it’s a great night of entertainment.

Queen's hockey bench

Access free tools for Financial Literacy Month #FLM2017

Financial Literacy month--take charge of your financesLast week, I promised to share some of the best sites and tools I learned about at the National Financial Literacy Conference for Financial Literacy Month.

Here are six free sites and tools you can use yourself, or share with your kids or students to help you take care of your financial health.

1) FCAC is encouraging Canadians to take the MoneyFitChallenge at moneyfitchallenge.com. Test your financial knowledge to earn points towards Tim Hortons and Cineplex gift cards. You can register as an individual, as an organization or as an educator.

2) VISA Canada and Marvel have teamed up to produce comic books for kids on financial literacy. You can order Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers Mad Money Skills at practicalmoneyskills.ca.

3) Score a hit with your teen by introducing them to Financialsoccer.ca to teach them basic money concepts.

4) myclassroomeconomy.org is a classroom economy that teachers can use to teach kids about money. Students earn school “dollars” for decisions like whether they will rent or buy their desks and more.

5) Newcomers to Canada can learn about how our banking system works with a free online course from abcmoneymatters.ca

6) My personal favourite: proliteracy.ca is a great site for planning for post-secondary education costs. You can enter the number of years your child will be in school, which university or college they plan to attend, which program and whether they will live at home or not. It will tell you what the total cost will be for tuition, rent, and expenses like food, books, etc. I ran the numbers and the total cost for Grace if she goes to four years of university was $86,000 or $61,000 if she lived at home. The site also has a great blog and information on what grants and scholarships are available. You can even share your profile with family members and ask them to make donations towards your child’s education!

This week’s #HappyAct is to take care of your financial wellbeing this month. Choose one tool or challenge yourself to take one action to take better care of your finances. Happy Financial Literacy Month!

7 Ways You Can Score Free Stuff

Family with free t-shirt and hatsWith cauliflower costing $7 these days, finding ways to save money is a smart strategy. Finding ways to score free stuff is even smarter.

Last night we were at the KROCK Centre watching the Kingston Frontenacs Game beat the Niagara Ice Wolves. It was blue and white night, and after the whistle, they were throwing Maple Leaf t-shirts into the crowds. Home Depot held a drilling competition during one of the intermissions and were giving away free hats. We scored on both fronts at the Fronts!

Then on the way home, we’re in the Tim Hortons drive thru and they made a mistake on our order so we scored an extra two donuts and hot chocolate. It was a banner night in the Swinton household.

Scoring free stuff is great on the pocketbook, but it’s also just pure fun. Here are seven ways you can score free stuff:

  1. Attend a sports event. At the last three or four games we’ve been to, we’ve scored free t-shirts and hats. You don’t have to spend a mint either on the admission ticket. Last year we went to the Queen’s-Ryerson men’s and women’s double header basketball game and scored free t-shirts.
  2. Shop at Costco. Sure, you may wind up a few hundred dollars in the red when you leave the place, but if you try all the samples, you’ve basically scored a free meal.
  3. Sign up for a charity walk or ride. Many charity events, like the Big Bike for Heart and Stroke give you a free gift for different pledge levels—a win-win for everyone.
  4. Look for introductory offers for organizations. As an outdoorsman, Dave takes out an annual membership to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. They have this amazing introductory offer where you get a tackle box full of lures, a reel, fishing line and more.
  5. Watch for 2 for 1 coupons on items, especially if it was something you were going to buy anyway. If you don’t need the second item, tuck it away for a gift.
  6. Attend a trade show or fair. These are goldmines for scoring free stuff!
  7. When travelling, research which local attractions are free or have free days. When I was in Washington last year I was surprised to learn that all of the Smithsonian museums are still free to the public. This may not technically qualify as free stuff, but with the high cost of vacation travel these days, finding free things to do is a fantastic score.

This week’s #HappyAct is to see what you can score for free this week. Just be prepared for the inevitable argument when your nine-year old insists on wearing her new Maple Leafs t-shirt to bed when your Canadiens loving spouse bans all blue and white in the house. What’s your best free stuff score? Leave a comment!

Best happy acts of 2015

Best of 2015 graphicSomeone once said you need to focus on the future, not the past, to be happy. While I think there is some truth in this statement, I think reflecting and learning from the past is valuable.

So in the spirit of reflection, here’s my Eleven Best Happy Acts of 2015 (once again eleven “for that extra push” in the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel). Most of these should inspire, but some are just for fun!

  1. Host your own awards show—with awards show season upon us, this is a great activity to do with the family or at a party.
  2. Listen with your heart—with 24 comments, this post struck a chord and sparked a debate about being self-absorbed and managing expectations in the selfie age.
  3. Whistle while you work—from guest blogger Matt Smith on the importance of being happy at work.
  4. The best investment you can make—and more pearls of wisdom from Warren Buffett, just in time for RRSP season.
  5. Make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown—my friend and guest blogger Ray Dorey wrote this before the Blue Jays came oh so close to reviving our dreams of ’85 and bringing baseball fever to a new pitch. Plan to visit in 2016.
  6. A twist on 13 things you must give up to be happy—an important lesson on reframing thoughts.
  7. Rise and shine—if January finally heralds winter winds and snow, this post will transport you back to warmer days.
  8. The science of happiness-part 2—answers the question, who do you think is more happy, lottery winners or parapalegics?
  9. Marriage is a life sentence—makes me think of my father-in-law, John Swinton every time…and smile.
  10. Diss the dis in disability—an invaluable lesson from the creators of Sesame Street. Make this your New Year’s resolution for 2016.
  11. Does being a leader make you happy? An important question. See more comments on this page on Quora.

This week’s #HappyAct is to catch up on any happy acts you missed in 2015 and look forward to happiness in 2016. Happy New Year everyone and thanks for reading!

It can buy me a boat

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately. November is Financial Literacy Month, and once again my company, Empire Life, is issuing a challenge: to take action this month on the one thing you need to do to feel better about your financial health. We call it the Financial Weight Loss Challenge—lose the weight of whatever financial worry is weighing you down.

Financial Literacy Month ad

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to decide what action I will take this month. Last year I said I was going to change to a cheaper cell phone plan, finish a spreadsheet I’d started with all our insurance and investment policies, and start saving more for the kids’ education. While I didn’t get it all done last November, I followed through on all three things.

My family’s favourite song right now is Chris Janson’s song, Buy Me a Boat. The lyrics are, “I know everybody says money can’t buy happiness…but it could buy me a boat, it could buy me a truck to pull it.”

When it comes to money, we’ve always taken a balanced approach between saving and living. Right now, living is winning out. So my actions this month will be modest: sign up for ebilling for those final bills that are still mailed to me (bonus points for going green, something I should have done a long time ago), put a few extra payments on our line of credit, and waste less food in the house, which for us mainly means cleaning out our fridge more often.

That will leave a little money in the bank to dream. And while the last thing we need is another boat, you never know what might show up in the driveway or where the wind will take us on our travels next year.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the Financial Weight Loss Challenge and share what you’re going to do to lose the weight of financial worry. Post a comment here or on the Empire Life Facebook page. You can also help support Pathways to Education if you share one of our posts with the hashtag #EmpireFLM this month. Every time someone uses the hashtag in November, we’ll donate .25 cents to Pathways to Education. Take the challenge: how will you lose financial weight? Leave a comment.


Take the Financial Weight Loss Challenge

Piggy bank with workout headbandMost people spend more time planning their next vacation than planning their finances. I’m passionate about travel, but I’m equally as passionate about taking control of your finances.

This was instilled into me long before I started working in the financial services industry. I remember my Dad saving his quarters, dimes and nickels in piles of jars on his dresser to pay for our family vacation each year.

Since then, I’ve lived by a few simple money mantras: live within your means, pay yourself first, buy insurance to take care of your loved ones. But just like everybody else, I know there are other things I should be doing to improve my financial health.

That’s why I was so excited when we came up with the idea at work to promote the launch of our new social media channels and Financial Literacy Month with a Financial Weight Loss Challenge.

The idea is simple. Think about the one thing you know you should do about your finances that you’ve been putting off and take action in the month of November. We recently met with our financial advisor to increase our savings for the kids’ education and our retirement, but there’s two other things on my list: finishing a spreadsheet of all our policies and switching cell phone providers (anyone with any tips on this one, let me know!)

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you peace of mind.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the #FinancialWeightLoss challenge. Take action this month to take control of your finances and lose the weight of whatever financial decision is weighing you down. Challenge your friends and family members by sharing the Financial Weight Loss challenge post on the Empire Life Facebook page (and like us while you’re there). We’re also running a contest where you can win either a $100 VISA gift card or iPad mini. Be sure to share what one action you are going to take.