When your budget won’t budge

Image by Thinkstock

There is a time to budget for a better life

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 10, 2015

There is nothing more sobering than dealing with finance. Now that we have accepted the fact that it sucks, let’s figure out how we can make it better, or at least bearable.

When we are budgeting it’s important to consider the reasons why we are saving money. What are our objectives? Without a clear goal, a budget is only a low fence that we can easily jump over with no dire consequences. Consider what you want to do after the budget is established: pay off debt, save up for a vacation, or buy something expensive.

It’s never preferable working paycheque to paycheque. If you find yourself stuck in this vicious circle it’s time to budget your cash flow. We are all dealing with different circumstances so there isn’t one easy solution, but like all goals, it’s better to work in smaller sprints than longer marathons.

Start by preparing a 90-day plan. Calculate your income and expenses and see what the difference is. If the number is wildly under your expectations it’s time to prioritize your needs. Here is where it hurts: for 90 days, you’ll have to be frugal. Spend only on necessities.

Social life can derail your financial plans pretty quickly, so you need to be careful of that too. Schedule your nights out ahead of time. If something comes up without at least a two-week notice (approximately the same time as your paycheque is issued), respectfully decline the invitation. Being spontaneous can be addictive and often it’ll take you two steps back in your plan. If you want to hang out with people, invite them over to your place. Creating a BYOB event and having friends over is much cheaper than a night at the bar.

Don’t think of a budget as a life-long barrier. That attitude can bury your self-worth and confidence pretty quickly. Instead consider a budget as a way to establish some running room for the future. In order to get a better job or pay off some debts you’ll need some help. Like studying for an exam, the result will not be instantaneous. You’ll really need to commit to it, and 90 days is not that long.

After the first quarter of saving, what do you do after? Go back to your opulent lifestyle? No. It’s time to reevaluate your situation. Three months may lead to a lot of changes or none at all and it never hurts to revisit your goals. Are you still burdened with debt or are you further along in the green? Are you closer to affording your vacation? How many semesters of school do you still have?

Once again, everyone’s life is different. The key is to keep in mind that there is a goal to reach. There is a deadline to meet. There will be obstacles and other people will try to tempt and influence you, but you must stay the course. Budgeting is the price you pay for a better life.

Let taxes equal charities

Photo via Thinkstock

Is it really better to give?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 3, 2015

It’s hard to get excited about taxes. Like having someone reach into your pocket and take whatever they want, tax season often leaves us all feeling a little violated. But for as long as civilized living has existed, taxes have been constant and increasing. It’s clear today that if we want to continue living the Canadian life, we’ll need to pay taxes, and a lot of them.

After you wash away the tears, let’s take a look at all the benefits, because it is all about the benefits. Public safety and services are two popular reasons to pay taxes, and they’re good ones. I’ll be glad to pay taxes if the firefighters put out my burning house or if a policeman arrests the dude who just robbed me. I frequent the library, so I’m happy about the books my tax dollars bought. I drive, so I’m glad there is money left to fill potholes and extend the highway. Let’s call taxes a security for our future, insurance for our way of living, and a charity for the people in our society.

As I progress through life, I have noticed that I’m paying more taxes. I remember there was a time when I received money from the government for simply being alive. Now, I’m required to pay it back—it’s bullshit. But I’m not going to stop working; I’m not going to stop making money. My attitude toward taxes is different. I want to make more money so I can pay more taxes. Rich people get praised all the time for donating to charity, but they get pitied for having to pay significant taxes. No! Don’t pity them. They are rich. If needing to pay taxes is a deterrent for wealth, there is something wrong with your mentality, and that needs to change.

Money creates power and power begets money. Taxes break this pattern. They put responsibility on the wealthy to help provide for their less fortunate peers as they cope with the hardships of life.

We are all in this together, although we might not all agree on where the money should go. Some say the money should be dedicated to slums, others say it should go into renovating a public art gallery. Some want it to build a new transit infrastructure; others want to upgrade the healthcare system. We might never agree, but the thing is, we should be optimistic that wherever our money goes it’s going to good efforts. The same way we have little control once we donate to a charity, is the same way we should approach taxes.

From City to Ciudad

By Elliot Chan
photo by Elliot Chan

The La Mariscal district is notoriously dangerous for travelers on Sunday mornings. While everybody in Quito is in church or sleeping off a hangover, troubled locals prey on the ignorant and arrogant. Perhaps more the latter than the former, we found ourselves heading down a deserted street toward the bus terminal out of the city.

The previous night seemed endless. Only seven hours ago, the streets were packed with tourists and locals, bonding over a Grande Pilsner and a fooseball game. Memories of making cookies and soup, and smoking hookah were still fresh on our minds. We were embraced by Ecuador; we were accepted, loved and appreciated. But barely knowing enough Spanish to order off a menu, we were disillusioned.

Wearing flashy sunglasses and walking with a North American swagger, we clashed with the dilapidated buildings, the battered streets and the poorly chiseled skylines. We might just get away with it, we thought. And that was the only way to think while traveling.

Then in the distance we saw a boy walking towards us. He was wearing a dirty blue athletic tank top. But he was far from athletic. It wasn’t that he was scrawny or malnourish, he was just incredibly average. The boy approached us with no threatening notion and began speaking in his native tongue.

No hablo,” said Cody, assuming he was a merchant trying to sell us something.

But he was persistent and soon we realized he wasn’t conversing pleasantries. “Si,” I said, furrowing my brow, shaking my head and shrugging my shoulder, a universal sign for misunderstanding. “Si.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

Frustrated, the boy gnashed his teeth, “Moneys…” he looked down at his fist. Between his fingers was the neck of a broken bottle. “Moneys!” His accent was difficult to understand, but the intent was clear when he subtly directed the weapon at us. I glanced up at Cody and he looked back at me. We understood each other without a single word spoken.

We were down the block when we glanced back at the boy. He was dismissively walking away. Like a salesman accustomed to losing costumers, he displayed no visible disappointment. We cross the street to the bus station, paid the 25 cents fare and waited in the shelter at the middle of the road. We stayed silent for a moment, recollecting what had just been avoided. The rehearsal was over, the warning was heeded and what was once a vacation was now survival.

Soon the bus arrived and we squeezed in. Unfriendly eyes watched as we maneuvered our heavy bags. At the rear of the bus on the opposite side of the door was a three feet by two feet area dedicated for standees. As passengers rotated in and out, we eventually worked our way to that little spot out of the stream of departing and incoming human traffic.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

We smiled at each other for a moment of ease. At first it felt like a fortunate turn of events, but then the bus pulled into another station and a large swam of Ecuadorians making their daily commute entered. We crammed against the window, stretched onto our tippy toes and hung on for dear life.

Toddlers accustomed to the commuting fashion thought nothing of it. Between and around our legs they were playing a game of tag. Cody looked up and gave their guardian a dirty look. But the kids continued squirming around beneath our view, laughing and thinking nothing of us foreigners.

“I’m falling over,” said Cody, his fingertips clinging to a horizontal bar above. “I would rather be in your position.”

“I doubt it,” I said, my face pressed against the window. But as terrible as it sounded, for a moment I felt a breeze and breathed fresh air. After a blissful exhale, an idling truck beside the bus spewed out a black cloud that slowly dissipated. A helmetless biker rode through the smog and coughed so wildly that he almost lost balance and careered into a pedestrian.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

I looked over and saw agony in Cody’s face. It was comical, but if he saw humour in the situation, he did not show it. The bus lurched and came to a halt. The doors opened and more passengers boarded. “You fucking kidding me?” Cody had a temper and it often got the best of him. As his only companion, the job of consoling him fell upon me.

“Relax,” I said, remembering that there was nothing more embarrassing than being a frustrated tourist. “We are almost there… I think.”

It took us 40 minutes to travel over five kilometers. The bus pulled into the terminal and the people poured out like water from a broken faucet. We were the last drops. After taking in a moment to recuperate and gather in the new environment, we were due for a siesta, but all we could afford on our budget was a bottle of water. I splurged and purchased yellow imitation Gatorade. I was alive. I deserved it.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

We purchased our ticket to Cuenca, a colonial city eight hours south of Quito. It cost us 10 dollars and a good night sleep—but it was worth it. It was always worth it. When people back home interrogate me, questioning my ability and reason for traveling, I summed up my answer with beaches, culture and cuisine, but mundane routines was what really get me going. Back home, walking down streets and taking buses are not great survival feats worth bragging about. Elsewhere, every day is a guaranteed adventure. After all, some travel to escape, but I travel to discover and discovery is a great inconvenience.

Unhaggle | How to Make an Insurance Claim After a Serious Car Accident

Posted by  | January 29, 2014 | 
Ghostwritten by Elliot Chan. View original on Unhaggle.com 
insurance claim

Accidents happen and so must insurance claims. The ebb and flow of traffic lends itself to many unfortunate scenarios and even the safest drivers can find themselves victims of an automobile accident. So, what now? What do you do after you survived  that traumatic event? How can you be sure you’ll avoid any financial loss, in addition to getting the rehabilitation you deserve? Let us walk you through the process!

Stop at the Scene

Don’t panic. Stop and assess the damage to both passengers and the vehicles. If you notice that the total amount of damage to your car is more than $1,000 or if the other driver is guilty of any Criminal Code infractions (i.e. DUI or speeding), contact 911 and follow the instructions given by the emergency operator. The police officer will fill out an accident report when they arrive and offer a copy to all parties involved in the incident.

Don’t drive away until the report is filed. If you flee the scene, you may be subjected to criminal prosecution. Even the most minor accidents require filed documents, whether written by the officer on the scene or when you personally visit a Collision Reporting Centre or nearest police station.

The report should include your insurance policy number, driver’s information, time and location, witnesses and accident situation (weather, speed, road signs, etc.). The police report will also state from the officer’s perspective as to who was at fault.

In addition to the report, be sure to grab the name, address, telephone number and driver’s licence of the other drivers and witnesses involved. Also, it doesn’t hurt to jot down notable facts about the scene, including road conditions and the speed of traffic.

The Acceptance Game

Alert your insurance company. Depending on the circumstances, your rates may not be affected. If they are, they can see the increase anywhere from 6% to 140% (this can be between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars per year). Regardless, it is important that you report it. If you do find yourself in an accident where you are at fault, the incident will stay on your record for six to ten years. Although, some insurance companies may offer accident forgiveness for first-time accidents.

In order to complete the insurance claim, an insurance adjuster will contact you. Following the Insurance Act’s rules and regulation outline, the adjuster will determine and assign fault, thus attributing the ratio to the drivers and vehicles involved. This ratio determines how much each party will have to pay or be compensated for in regards to the claim. Such variables included in the claim are proof of loss, injuries or damage to property.

Avoid Further Loss

It’s important to stay calm after an accident. The world might seem to be spinning out of control, but you must assure yourself that everything will be fine. Gather yourself together so you can prevent causing yourself further damages and loss.

Be wary of unauthorized tow truck operators, they may try to implement immediate payment. Before you cough out any more money, ask a police officer for the number of the authorized tow truck company or speak with your insurance company first.

Do not order repairs, except for those needed to protect your vehicle, until the insurer has a reasonable amount of time to inspect the damages. You shouldn’t assume liability.

The insurer’s job is to determine whether your vehicle is worth repairing, or in other words, if the cost of repairs is equal or greater than the value of the car. If it is, then the insurance company might just consider it a total loss, in which case the vehicle will not be fixed and the owner will be charged the amount calculated by the insurance adjuster.

Objection, Compensation and the Aftermath

Of course, disputes are bound to happen when it comes to something as fragile as financial and medical compensation in a post-accident scenario. If you feel that there was an unfair ruling on your incident, you may request a review from your insurance company and have the accident re-evaluated. But before you buy the ticket for another ride, be sure that you have additional information that can influence a change in their decision-making. A third-party reviewer will have another look at the claim, assisting in the adjuster’s decision. But be warned, should the outcome not be in your favour, the claim may be increased. In the end, all must abide by the arbitrator’s decision.

Purchasing collision and all perils coverage may also be an option. This plan will cover loss and damages, should the fault fall on you after an accident.

If you feel you have been victimized of insurance fraud, contact services such as Fraud Hotline of Financial Services Commission of Ontario to help you out.

Remember that in the end it all comes down to safety and preparation. Be a safe driver, but anticipate the worst. Have an emergency kit handy and keep an accident worksheet in your glove compartment. A collision can be a horrific event, but you can reduce the stress and panic if you are ready for it.

Qriket Shares Profits with Users with Gamified App to Promote Local Business

 

Posted by Elliot Chan on Jan 27, 2014

Formerly published by Techvibes.

Free money! Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about Toronto-based Qriket, an app that goes against the grain and offer users an opportunity to win real money—not game tokens, not experience points, but real money.

Don’t be too skeptical, because Qriket functions as a very rational marketing tool for local businesses and brands. Instead of bombarding a wide audience with media and static ads, Qriket’s partners enable users to choose what they want to consume and their price. Whether by clicking on content located on the “Qriket feed” or venturing out to find QR codes, users can earn gaming credits or “wands” to play various games and earn, you got it, money.

So far, users have won $1.44 million from the Toronto-based company.

“We want to gamify the consumption of media on a mobile device,” Jonny Comparelli, founder and CEO of Qriket, explained to Techvibes. “We want to make it worthwhile for people to communicate with brands, and get deals offers and promos.”

Starting out as a simple QR code scavenger hunt app and then evolving into the daily revenue sharing platform it is today was a long five-year journey for Comparelli and the team at Qriket. The objective and original vision has not change though and that was to bridge the gap between digital media and out of home media. The way they have achieved that is by bringing it close to home.

Qriket in-store allows participating retailers to print out dynamic QR codes and encourage customers to engage with them every time they make a purchase. After buying a cup of coffee or a sandwich, users will see a code on the bottom of their receipt. They can then snap it with the Qriket QR scanner and earn anywhere from 5% to 200% cash back on any purchase.

“For the hyper local level it has turned out to be a great alternative for these small businesses,” said Comparelli. “You can use the giants like Facebook and Twitter if you are a brand and you can command that audience. But if you are Joe’s coffee shop on Queen Street it’s very hard to utilize digital market to your advantage.”

Qriket fills the gap by partnering with companies that are willing to spend anywhere from a dollar to a half-a-million in advertising. Functioning as a performance-based marketing platform, Qriket doesn’t charge their partners anything for impression (cost per clicks). That way the business involved will be able to tell their story to a larger audience in a larger region and only pay for those that are opting to engage with them. If the audience doesn’t want to engage, well, that’s fine—everyday they are offered free chances to win money by spinning a colour wheel.

Whether you are a diehard Qriket user or a simply someone testing out the water earning a little bit each day for partaking in incentives, Qriket wants to be a platform users will check on a daily bases for benefits.

“No matter where you are [Qriket] can be this great umbrella loyalty program for businesses,” said Comparelli. “It doesn’t require any software or hardware and we are actually printing those dynamic QR codes for businesses to sign up for this loyalty program that is just cash back everywhere you spend. And we tie it in to the Qriket vision which is to allow all our users to share in the revenue made from their interaction and their engagement—and I think that is what’s missing in the tech-landscape today.”

While some may believe that QR codes are obsolete and out of fashion, Qriket is not worried about the fate of any linking code as they make plans to expand to the US and five major cities on the east coast; already the startup boasts nearly 110,000 monthly users and revenues of almost $3 million.

“The QR code is nothing more than a digital engagement token,” noted Comparelli. “For us it was never about saving the QR code—if the time comes when something else is more prevalent or more accessible or cheaper to implement than a 2D-printed QR code than that’s what Qriket will use to tie your profile to what you are spending. Otherwise, it’s about coming up with creative ideas for what the technology actually is, as opposed to linking a URL and thinking we’ve hit the jackpot in engagement.”

Wagepoint Launches Pay, a New Online Payroll App

There are no jobs more important than making sure every worker gets correct payment for their time and efforts. HR managers and business owners across the country will agree that managing salary and hourly pay, while subtracting benefits and such without proper tools is a complicated task.

Luckily, Toronto-based payroll software company Wagepoint has launched a new online application that will make the painstaking process a more bearable and—dare I say— even enjoyable endevour. The fully automated, cloud-based payroll software can be set up with just a few clicks.

There are two plans that users can choose from. The Free plan offers the fully featured app as an alternative to the CRA calculator. But for a $20 base fee and $2 per employee per payroll, users with the Pro plan are allowed to use the direct deposit feature, enabling administration to deposit funds straight to the employees or contractors’ bank accounts. Also the Pro plan takes care of the government remittances and issues T4s at the end of the year.

Wagepoint’s Pay offers many more features that separates it from the common spreadsheets and data entry software administration uses to manage wages. These features include employee self-service, which reduces paper trails and waste, while allowing employees to access their electronic paystubs anytime.

Another one of Pay’s features is helping to manage the different type of workers that needs to receive compensation: hourly versus salaried and employees versus independent contractors. With Pay all the data will be centralized so all workers will receive the appropriate amount with less errors and confusion.

After the first payroll with Pay, businesses can choose to use the Auto-Run Payroll feature to manage their payments if there is nothing new to report. This feature can be turned off at anytime, but if left on it will automatically send payments to employees and the government at the appointed time.

Wagepoint makes the payroll task light and easy, but they also understand the critical importance of security. Pay’s data is encrypted using 128-bit secure socket layer (SSL) encryption. Wagepoint utilizes state of the art firewall and backup technology and the data is kept in a high-security, access-controlled Tier 3 facilities.