Saving for School by Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a Canadian personal finance guru. She was the host of television shows “Til Debt do us Part” and “Princess”, which is where I first learned some of her lessons. I am actually super passionate about both personal finance and national debt / state budgets, but I took a break from reading non-fiction because I went back to school around the time that I started this blog. I’m looking forward to reading more for learning over the next little bit, now that I don’t have to focus on boring old text books!

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I LOVE this book. It is perfect because it is super easy to read. Let’s face it – books about money can be intimidating to read. The average person worries that they won’t be able to understand it, or that they will be faced with some hard truths … maybe that they’ve messed up so bad they won’t ever be able to sort it out or that they are going to have to make big changes to create the future they want.

It’s easy to put aside for “later” and never really get into it. Don’t do that!

“Saving for School” is short and sweet. The book itself is small, like the size of a Harlequin Romance paperback. And it is only 84 pages. I read it in a couple of hours … in the same room where my parents and sister were talking and my nephew was (loudly!) watching soccer. There were a lot of distractions around. I promise you can get through it too.

Gail has a way of writing as if she is sitting down next to you explaining. Her books don’t come across as academic or “lectury” to me. It could be a friend or a parent trying to explain something, only with Gail, I’m sure it isn’t well-meant but completely inaccurate advice.

So who is “Saving for School” written for?

Anyone with an interest in post-secondary education. That could be a parent of a teenager or a pre-schooler, or someone planning to become pregnant.

It could be a grandparent, uncle, church leader, or the student himself (or herself).

I’ve already graduated from university, but even I found some tips to help me pay back my student loans in a way that reduces the interested that I pay, and how to do the calculations that will tell me how much interest I’ll pay based of different payment options.

Ideally though, the earlier you (parent/student) start planning for post-secondary expenses, the more prepared you will be, both in the knowledge of how to take advantage of the system and how much things cost, and in how much money you will have managed to squirrel away for tuition and other expenses.

“Saving for School” helps explain the ways to get free money from the government.

FREE MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT?!!! Is it possible?! Yes!!!

Truly. I’m not taking about OSAP, I’m talking about the Canadian Education Savings Grant money. You don’t have to pay it back. And you can earn interest on it in the mean-time. I did have an RESP from my parents, which covered the academic expenses for about one year of uni. But I didn’t have any idea of the CESG or whether my parents were able to take advantage of it or not. If a little bit of planning and strategic saving can give you $7200 (plus whatever interest you earn on that!) for each child’s education, you want to take advantage of it!

Other ways to save for university: apply for scholarships and bursaries. I’m not that smart (remember, I dropped out of school and it took me a while to go back … seriously, I’m not Harvard Med material over here) or that poor. I still got entrance scholarships that were renewable for each year, and bursaries. Apply even when you don’t think you will get anything. Easy money! You can apply directly to your university and to scholarship websites like… :

http://www.scholarshipscanada.com/

Scholarships, grants and bursaries for Canadian students

You can also make money by working during high-school and university, or borrow from a family member or the bank. Predictable response, I know. Sorry.

I like that Gail reminds the reader to make sure that a young adult goes off to university with lifeskills, like how to shop at the grocery store, or do laundry. Moms and Dads have a tendency to want to do everything for their child, but that isn’t actually helpful. A parent’s role is to raise a competent adult who knows how to do things for themselves so that they are prepared to handle what life throws at them.

I would add a point of my own here – it is awesome to have activities and hobbies as a child and a teenager and this should be continued through adulthood. It is fun and healthy! After all the purpose of life is to be happy, not to work that 9-5. But if you can guide a child into some activities that may be lucrative later in life …. not the worst thing either.

I feel that most of my hobbies are not something that I can market to make money in the “no-collar” economy when I need a little more. I had friends making minimum wage at McDonald’s and friends making twice that working as lifeguards and swim instructors during school. Guess who ended up with more money and fewer hours at a job?!

Yup. Splash splash.

Same with less organized hobbies, like sewing or knitting, playing a musical instrument … these are all things that a poor university student (or newly employed-broke-dying under student debt young adult) can leverage at certain times to make money, by selling a product or teaching others. My nephew loves hockey and soccer, but it would be hard to make extra money as a soccer instructor, especially mid-way through the academic year which would be January. In Canada. His sister could be a great swim teacher through, if she stuck with it. She is “artsy” too, maybe she could sell her skills in that division.

Probably getting a little off track of the book review, but I think the point is really important and as an Auntie, I try to hammer it into those kids’ heads. They think they understand now but they won’t really until they are halfway through university and eating Ramen noodles three times a day. I don’t want them to be without marketable skills when they realize it.

“Saving for School” teaches the reader the most effective ways to leverage your savings – whether it is $20.00 a month or $200.00, to put someone through university. It covers how to engage a financial institution to create an RESP (registered education savings bond) and get the CESP (grant money) and the great tool that TFSAs (tax free savings accounts) can be to keep your money out of the tax man’s hands. It gives some advice for how to prepare a child to become a responsible university student and how to establish a credit history as a young adult.

I HIGHLY recommend it and hope you pick up this book.  If you feel it wasn’t for you, you only wasted about two hours. And I’ve searched about five local library systems and they all had a copy. So you can go borrow it for free.

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xx

P.S. Gail has a website with tools on it. Check it out here.

P.P.S. Still stuck on that comment I made about paying off student loans and interest calculators? I copy and pasted this from Gail’s website for you. Credit to her please!

Let’s say, for example, that you have a $20,000 loan at 8%, and you want to have your student loan paid off in 3 years, which is 36 months.

First, the interest: $20,000 x 8% ÷ 12 (months) = $133,33. That’s the interest part of your monthly payment.

Now the principal repayment: Take your total principal of $20,000 and divide it by the number of months you want to take to pay off the loan, in this case 36.

So, $20,000 ÷ 36 = $555.55.

Add the principal amount of $555.55 to $133.33 in interest and your monthly payment is $688.88.

That’s a good indicator of what your monthly payment will be on the loan. It’ll actually be a little less since interest is calculated on a declining balance (as you pay off your loan, the principal goes down, so the amount of interest goes down).

The government of Canada has a website that offers a loan repayment calculator (http://tools.canlearn.ca/cslgs-scpse/cln-cln/40/crp-lrc/af.nlindex-eng.do) to take the math out of the exercise, if you’re number-challenged. You can enter up to three scenarios at a time to see how much you’ll have to pay monthly along with the interest you’ll pay over the life of your student loan.

Happy saving!

Hidden Monsters – a review

Hidden Monsters is the fourth full novel in the Volkov Bratva Mafia series.
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Blurb:

Until Luka…

Aleksandra Volkov happily escaped into the oblivion that alcohol and pills provided, longing to forget the memories that plague her. But sometimes, it takes someone as equally broken to mend the fractured pieces of her life.

Until Alex…

Luka Sergeyev willfully courted death by living in the midst of the very people who would have him killed if the truth of who he was ever came out. But he would gladly take that risk if it meant she would look at him like he mattered for just a little while longer.

When it comes to life within the Volkov Bratva, love comes at a price, secrets are common, and most of all, one’s survival is not guaranteed.

—                   —                   —

Hidden Monsters is the fourth book in the Volkov Bratva series, featuring Russian-American monsters and the women they love. It is the only story between Alex and Luka.

Much like the previous books that I also reviewed, Hidden Monsters is a young/new adult romance novel about the Russian Mafia operating in NYC. Alex is a ballerina, whose brother Mishca is the Pakhan (or leader) of the NY organization.

Luka is the only one who sees that she is drowning after the revelations of the last few years. Not wanting to intrude on her brother and sister-in-laws newly wedded bliss, a stranger from her newly discovered brother Klaus and half a world away from her school and professional ballet friends, Alex spirals further and further, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain inside. Until Luka discovers what she is doing and steps in, putting her in rehab, the Mafioso version.

I love the completed web of plots that the author mixed into the novel, from the complicated relationships between Luka and Alex, Alex and Mishica, and Luka and Mishca, to the Albanian ties that existed from the beginning of the series, it felt like the fitting finale missing at the conclusion of The Final Hour.

I like the sense of closure that this book brought to the series. My only regret is that I felt the ending was rushed.

** Minor Spoilers **

This is a romance novel with a happily ever after, so of course Luka survives and reunites with Alex. I felt like this section was too rushed, a couple more chapters would have been useful. I wanted to see bits and pieces of Alex and Mishca repairing their relationship, the fragmentation of which was covered so thoroughly.

A lot of authors tend to do this, reunite the couple and then quickly end the novel. Um hello?!! We just had the big climax and then one chapter of reunion and that is it? Maybe I’m a little sensitive but I want to be led out of the story more slowly. Ease me back into the real world. Tie up loose ends such as the mains’ relationships with supporting characters. You spend an entire book (or series!) developing these relationships and making us believe in them, don’t ignore them now!!!!

Ok, baby rant aside, I loved this book. I hope that the author has plans to write a novel for Klaus. I suspect she will from the tidbits we have gotten, but it might be more the first novel of another series, rather than a part of this one. He seems to have a lot going on away from this cast.

I loved Hidden Monsters and read it very quickly. London Miller has matured in writing since starting with Lauren and Mishca, and it has become my second favourite Russian Bratva series.

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xx

 

 

Crow’s Row – a review

Crow’s Row, by Julie Hockley, is a coming of age story told from the perspective of its heroine, second year university student Emily Sheppard. The series takes its name from the first book, with the second called Scare Crow.

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Emily is living in the ghetto, near to where the older brother she idolized died several years earlier, and is completely cut off from any real emotional connection to friends, family or a significant other. Abandoned by her room-mates for the summer, she witnesses a murder in the cemetery during one of her daily runs, is kidnapped by said thugs, and taken to a remote farm out of state while they decide what to do with her.

Ultimately, this series is about Emily coming to understand the various connections she unknowingly has to her kidnappers and to the city she has moved to for school.

I found this series by googling for NA (new adult) books related to the bratva or mafia, and this came up. It isn’t exactly what I was looking for that day (deets below) but I read it anyway. It is still an excellent start by rookie author Hockley.

These books are a blend of the young adult and new adult categories in my opinion. The characters’ ages and some subject matter are certainly more appropriate for the new adult tag, but there is very little sex in the series, none of it explicit, which is far more commonly found in young adult novels. If you are starting to read up as a young person, or are just uncomfortable reading erotic scenes, this would be a great recommendation for you, certainly far safer than my usual review material.

During her months spent with her kidnappers, Emily gets to know them on a more personal level and the reader discovers that there is more going on than initially presented. Although these men – and woman – are certainly very dangerous people, you don’t see much of that side of them, because they treat Emily well after her initial kidnapping, and everything is written in her perspective.

My main criticism of these books draws from this. Cameron, the leader of this motley crew, turns out to be a Big Bad, the sole leader of an organized crime syndicate for the North Eastern United States, presiding over a council comprised of mafia types, outlaw bikers, gangs, etc.

I had two problems with this: firstly, as I stated, we get Emily’s perspective and even though she is scared of him at times, they are sweet on each other and have a longer connection than she realizes. Plus, he is a dog lover. When the reader only gets glimpses of his darker side, it is hard to imagine him being powerful enough or dark enough to control all those other criminal groups. Secondly, he wasn’t born into this life – he made his own way from highschool drug dealer up – and late twenties seems way too young to be in that powerful of a position, able to strong-arm the mafia and established 1% biker clubs into submission.

I hope that Hockley adds a lot darker material into the third novel, to validate her characters’ claims. So far the violence is restrained to kidnapping (and treating their “guest” very well) and murder (of very bad dudes who were trying to kill our protagonists). I need Spider et al (and maybe even Emily) to do some seriously evil shit in the next book because right now, it feels like Hockley is on the edge, trying to write R-rated characters in a PG-13 novel.

Oddly enough, the main criticism I saw online of this book was that Emily fell in love with Cameron. But I had no trouble with that plot-line at all. She does fall for the guy responsible for her kidnapping true, but other than that initial confrontation, Cameron does nothing at all to hurt her and actually protects her. There isn’t any Stockholm Syndrome at play here. It doesn’t take long for Emily to decide that the farm isn’t a bad place to stay, and she doesn’t seem particularly anxious to leave. In fact, I think she would have quite happily stayed forever if she wasn’t nervous about why there were so many armed guards protecting the property. (Minor spoilers ahead)

Once she realizes that Cameron and her brother had been good friends and business partners, she wants to get as close as possible to the group and find out what she can. She never believed the reports of how her brother Bill died via an overdose and has been seeking a connection to him since his death six years previously. After realizing that Cameron has been looking out for her from afar for so long, in honour of Bill, the connection between them just deepens.

I can’t speak too much to the plot-line in the sequel without completing spoiling the ending of the first, but I highly encourage anyone here to keep reading.

After reading Crow’s Row, pick up Scare Crow, and eventually the untitled third book which has already been announced.

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* * * * (for both books)

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Enigma by Eric Walters – A review

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If you have never heard of Canadian author Eric Walters, you must live in a cave and have never been a child.

He is a former teacher from Toronto who started writing to inspire his students and hasn’t stopped since. The guy churns out amazing novels for 8-14 year olds at an amazing rate. I first experienced his brilliance more than a decade ago in seventh grade, when we read several of his books. He promptly became my favourite author and even as an adult, I go back to re-read the occasional standalone or newest addition to a series.

Okay, okay, I should be writing a review for Enigma, not fawning all over the guy. But I love him so much, I’m going to leave a list of his best novels at the end of this post, in case you are that youth or parent looking for some good reads.

Enigma is the sixth, and presently the most recent, installment of the Camp X series.  It follows two teenage brothers, George and Jack, and their exploits helping Allied powers during the Second World War.  The first several books take place in Canada, the fifth in Bermuda, and Enigma, in the UK.

The style of the book changes slightly, in that George and Jack really don’t seek out trouble this time around. In fact, 70% of the way through the book, lots has happened but there are no suspicious characters to be found.  Hopefully there will be one more book to tie the series off, but I enjoyed Enigma, and it certainly redirected the series after the previous book flopped.  You can see the progression of time, the boys are older and becoming more independent. The elder brother Jack is barely in this book, spending most of it at work or with his girlfriend, instead of with George and the reader.

If you are a fan of Eric Walters or the series itself, definitely make some time to read this one.  I am always impressed with the level of research Walters does, and his attempts to write a fictional tale within a historical framework.  Not many authors take the time to do this when writing for youth and it matters.

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Books I highly recommend you start with (boys and girls): The Bully Boys; Camp X series; Northern Exposures; Safe as Houses; Sketches; Shattered; Trapped in Ice; The Hydrofoil Mystery; Stars; Diamond in the Rough; Stand your Ground; Visions

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