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‘Date night needn’t bust your budget’





Toronto-based author Gordon Stein drew on his personal finance expertise and his drive to help Canadians build wealth — and get out of debt — in writing Cashflow Cookbook.

His book offers 60 financial “recipes” and this month’s excerpt looks at less-expensive alternatives for date night that mix things up and help build wealth by investing the savings.

Dinner at a café after an evening walk or visit to an art gallery can be a refreshing, less expensive take on date night.
Dinner at a café after an evening walk or visit to an art gallery can be a refreshing, less expensive take on date night.  (Dreamstime)

Thursday night was “date night” for Bruno and Jodi. For years they had gone to the movies, indulging in greasy popcorn washed down with 28 ounces of fizzing sugar. It wasn’t doing their waistlines any favours, but it was a nice tradition.

One night in December, Bruno met Jodi for their date after her school board meeting. They jumped on the subway with no particular movie in mind.

As they strolled hand in hand, enjoying the festive lights and the tingle of fresh snow on their faces, they paused to look at the displays in the art gallery window.

Neither had set foot inside for decades. Their eyes met and they shared an unspoken “let’s check it out.”

Jodi pulled out her wallet at the admissions counter but the clerk pointed to the “Free on Thursday” sign. Bonus!

They started in the Canadian gallery and learned about colour, style and meaning as used by artists they’d barely heard of.

They shared their reactions to the canvases and their ideas about what would work in their house.

At 7:30, they attended a session by a cellist who shared her compositions, the inspiration for her pieces and her journey to become a soloist.

As they walked back to the subway hours later, they realized they had forgotten about dinner. They found a hole-in-the-wall café and discussed the art and music over a low-cost meal.

Jodi grabbed her phone and they started a list of other fun, low-cost, healthy date night ideas, including the museum, concerts in the park, pay-what-you-can night at the local theatre and Groupon cooking classes.

The bill came and Jodi slid it to Bruno. He raised an eyebrow. “I got the art gallery,” she said, smiling.

Savings don’t show up only in mundane areas like car insurance, gas bills and groceries. Here’s a delectable, easy-to-execute recipe for budget entertainment:


  • For high-end, live entertainment consider the savings of subscriptions vs. individual tickets — or check sites like for for deals.
  • For concerts, check for tickets on Kijiji. Be careful of scams.
  • Try for reasonably priced local music, theatre and comedy, or watch for pay-by-donation nights and free preview performances.
  • Most movie theatre chains have a “cheap night,” and cinema loyalty points programs can save cash on admission and snacks.
  • For attractions, look at local sites like and provincial sites like for coupons.
  • Do an online search for the name of the attraction you’re interested in and “coupons” before booking online. You might find a deal.
  • Check with Costco or other membership retailers to see if they offer discount vouchers.
  • Check with your employer, alumni association and automobile association for discounted tickets for events and attractions.

Hearty Serving for a family of five:

  • Originally seeing five, high-end theatre shows a year, two tickets at $130 each, or $1,300 annually.
  • Visiting family attractions (amusement parks, water parks, etc.) five times a year, for the equivalent of $125 monthly.
  • Bought theatre tickets to less-expensive shows at for $25 each, totalling $21 monthly.
  • Used Groupon passes to save 25 per cent on family attractions, for $94 monthly.


  • 10-year value x 173 = $20,414.

Gordon Stein is a Toronto-based personal finance speaker, author of Cashflow Cookbook and contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter @cashflowcookbk.


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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers





Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers





Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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