ING vs TD, TD vs Questrade

Interest rates at conventional banks (TD Canada Trust, BMO, etc.) suck. There is little reason to place your savings there. I’ve followed the model of TD Canada Trust for my day-to-day checking and ING for my savings account. I also have my mortgage and investment accounts with TD.

Why not ING for the checking?

ING is a good bank; however, I still prefer an actual branch that I can walk into to deposit or withdraw funds. TD Branches are located everywhere (where we are, anyway) and their hours are unmatched by other traditional banks (some branches are open Sundays too). I prefer doing as much as I can online; however, I still manage to visit the branch at least a dozen times a year (depositing cash, obtaining a cashier’s check etc.). I also found it much easier to do simple things like changing your name due to marriage, converting to a joint account, etc. easier since I just walk into the bank with my wallet and proof of marriage. With all the online services, I had to call them, ask them what they wanted, scan documents, mail them…and then wait a few days. It’s not terribly difficult, but I prefer things done “instantly” or something as important as my checking account.

Why TD?

I love their Select Service checking account. It’s a $30 monthly fee that is waived if you maintain $5,000 or more in your checking account (which we do). Sure, we forego interest on this money, but in any checking account we’d have a couple of thousand at any point anyway and the benefits are worth it for us:

  • Free checks. ING does not give free personalized checks. I use my checkbook regularly – i.e. at church for offering, paying another person, etc.
  • Free certified checks. So far I’ve had to obtain at least one every year for the past 5 years.
  • Free US checking account. I hold my US funds in this account. The US Borderless account also gives me preferred exchange rates.
  • Free US Credit Card: TD US Dollar Visa. I often purchase from US websites in US funds (in addition to travelling to the US), and this has helped me save 2-3% in exchange fees.
  • Free premium TD Credit Cards: my husband carries the TD Gold Visa and I carry the TD First Class Travel. Our joint account lets us have ’em both for free.

You can also get a free safety deposit box (we don’t care for one) if you so desire. In the five or so years I’ve had this account, I’ve only once paid the monthly fee. Other times, I’ve always just called in the bank and they waived the fee as a “good will” gesture.

But TD for…discount brokerage?

Questrade is definitely the popular option as a discount brokerage. Nothing really beats $4.95 trades. TD starts at $29 unless you have over $50,000 in assets (sadly, your checking account doesn’t count) in which case it’s $9.99. So, going to Questrade is a no-brainer – and that’s exactly what I did. However, I found their service lacking and their platform archaic. I have three separate login accounts with them: one to the company where my money goes, one where my account is, and another for the trading platform. It’s a nightmare. There are people who have have great experiences with Questrade; I did not. I was especially displeased with their inability to let me change my account to my married name. To open an account, you can scan all your documents and send it to them; you never have to hit the mailbox. But to change your name? Nope, a scanned marriage certificate is insufficient. You need to mail a copy. Oh and if you didn’t change your name and decided to move some money from your checking to your Questrade brokerage account? Be prepared for the funds to be on hold because your name is different. Best part is, you will not be informed in any way that your funds are on hold. You will have to call them to find out, and then request that they be returned.

For that reason alone, I preferred paying $30 in commissions to TD. I still have my account at Questrade and a few stocks in there, which I will eventually empty…but I have no desire to use it as my primary brokerage. It’s not worth the hassle.

 

 

Travel: Flights

This post is first in series covering my adventure and offering tips on booking flights, hotels, and rental cars.

My cousin-in-law and I have had the pleasure of booking flights, hotels, rental cars and in general, plan a trip for 10 adults and 2 infants in California. We’re going there for my brother-in-law’s wedding. Since most of us haven’t traveled much, let alone been to California before, booking this trip alone is quite the adventure.

Woohoo, window seat! Aaargh, over the wing.

I’ve flown before and researched flights in the past. What I had never done before was try to get seats for 10 people on the same plane; normally it’s just 2-3 people. It is very easy to get cheap tickets for a couple of people. It turns out that airlines have a “tier” system for pricing – first x number of seats for $300; next x for $350; next x for $400. (This changes for last-minute-deals, but we really couldn’t risk doing a last minute deal.) Many airlines and booking companies don’t even let you book for over 6 people; some let you book for 9 at a time. I initially thought that I could book in two groups, but if one of us was in the middle of booking for Group A, the other one would get much higher prices for Group B.  In Group A, everyone’s average would come to around $400 per person; but in Group B it’d jump to $500 per person! Nobody wanted to pay that…

There was a little guilt everywhere since I had been pushing folks to book the flights 6 months in advance. But the Bachelor Party folks couldn’t come up with dates in time, so we ended up delaying a month. In that one month, the tickets went up roughly $100 per person. So we were all determined to book our flights as soon as possible – before they go up any further (After all, 10 people, $100 per person = $1000!).  We ended up calling an agent at FlightCenter who found us flights for $377 per person (including tax) but had an extra day of stay. Before we could confirm with her, we had to make sure that everyone else could take an extra day off from work (hotel costs were insignificant) – and by the time we got back to her (about an hour), she had trouble getting the deal again. It took well over two hours for her to be able to secure the deal again even though she had a “hold” on it (whatever that means).

A month later, I am still checking kayak.com on a regular basis to have that feel-good feeling that we got a pretty good deal.

A few tips for people booking flights to the US:

  • Fly from a US city.
    •  We’re driving to a “nearby” (2 hour drive) US city to fly from. Flying from Toronto is an additional $200-$300 per person. Getting a Park and Fly hotel is cheaper.
  • Pay with a US Dollar Credit Card.
    • Since we are flying from a US city, through a US airline booked by a US travel agent, we used our TD US Credit Card. I forego the 1.5% I get back from my Travel credit card, but save nearly 2.5% in exchange fees and commissions.
  • Research prices online. 
    •  kayak.com is my favorite because of it’s ability to add “nearby airports” while booking. It also lets you include the cost of checked baggage in your comparison shopping.
  • Bargain with a travel agent.
    • Really. They have access to a whole host of things – including contacting airlines if they need to, to get you a pretty good deal. In our case, we told ours about the cheapest price we found (even if the plane was booked/price was only for 1 person) and she beat that price for 10 people.
Also, I found it pretty useless to talk to the airlines directly myself to get a “group rate.” They were always higher than anything I could find online.

 

 

 

Good Bye, Yves!

As a vegetarian, I am always on the lookout for something to have a veggie burger with. The usual Yves Veggie Patties are OK, but they’re….full of crap.  I am not a big fan of too much soy. I don’t want a meat alternative. I want something inexpensive but healthy. I’ve tried a whole lot of things – home made veggie patties made of beans or quinoa – but they end up being too oily, tasting yucky, or just taking too much time.

And then I bumped in Looneyspoons Collection to by Janet and Greta. There aren’t a whole lot of vegetarian recipes in there, but I am able to transform plenty of their recipes into vegetarian food. It is probably the only recipe book that I’ve ever actually used. It’s practical. It’s witty. It offers an incredible amount of advice and they know how to make food work. (I keep adding Flax seeds to all my batters now – muffins, cakes, you name it.) They have a fantastic recipe Bye Bye Burgie (Broiled Portobello “burgers” with sweet peppers, red onions, and a chickpea spread). You just throw all the ingredients into a food processor, and out comes a fantastic paste that you spread onto broiled Portobello mushrooms. It’s delicious and easy – the whole thing takes me 30 minutes (including gathering all the ingredients from my disorganized kitchen).

I modified the original recipe by substituting yogurt for sour cream and adding 1/4 avocado and 1/2 tsp of turmeric. I don’t really care for sour cream and don’t usually have it around the house. The avocado makes it a lot creamier and the turmeric is just a nice touch. By itself, the paste doesn’t taste great, but when the dish is thrown together – it’s divine. I highly recommend using the thinnest buns you can find. I’ve tried it on bread, and there is just too much of a bread taste. I prefer thin whole grain buns or english muffins.

Bye Bye Burgie II (based on Bye Bye Burgie in Looneyspoons Collection)

1 cup of canned/boiled chickpeas
¼ cup avocado (I use a quarter-half of an avocado, depending on how much is in my fridge)
2 tbsp plain yogurt
2 tbsp onion (a small wedge)
1 tbsp chopped, fresh cilantro
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsp lemon or lime juice
1 tsp of honey (or brown sugar)
¾ tsp of ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Throw this all in a food processor until you’ve got a creamy paste.

I'm like hummus, but not really...

Next, rub a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (with some basil) on your mushrooms and sliced red peppers. Broil them on high for a few minutes, throw them on a baby spinach laden bun, put your paste on the mushroom, and voila! A scrumptious meal with your protein, carbs, and veggies! The mushroom is very juicy – so I wouldn’t add tomatoes, relish, mayo, etc on your bun. I’d stick with the spinach on the bun (below I am using a cucumber – was out of spinach) as originally suggested – it soaks up a little moistness of the mushroom (it’s VERY moist). I also like to have some extra red pepper slices – they taste great broiled! For a snack, try the paste on the balsamic-vinegar-coated-broiled-red-peppers. It’s fantastic!

Must..not...over-eat...

Baby with weed

Hello, World!

Usually, I use “Hello, World!” only when trying a new programming language. It’s always amusing to know how many lines of code it takes to print Hello World in various languages. But this time, I mean it. I have never really had a blog (had a few test blogs to see what is this new thing people are after), so getting WordPress setup and then coming up with a logo took some time.

WordPress

WordPress installation was easy, as usual. Most CPanel’s have Fantastico, which makes it a click of the button. After installation, it’s going through the  daunting task of finding a WordPress theme followed by creating a logo. I wanted a fairly simple theme – something I’ll replace later, and Origin seems great so far. I tried PageLines which offered the simplicity I was looking for, but it’s a lot for someone who has never used WordPress before. There is just so much you can customize with them with an ease of a button – it seemed more for people who aren’t tech savvy but know what WordPress is capable of / what they want out of it. Me, I just wanted a blog where I can throw in some words. PageLines is probably something to consider down the road, considering that I am not terribly interested in spending time to actually tweak WordPress at the moment.

Making a Logo

I was curious how making a logo for a website has changed in the past…5-10 years. Do people still download Photoshop CS trials (or pirated copies) to make these logos? I didn’t want to go through a huge download of Photoshop CS or suffer through having Photoshop on my hard drive for the simple purpose of making a darn logo. It turns out a lot of websites have turned up, and even some exclusive software (not free!) that are dedicated to making you a logo. reddit’s forhire section has a lot of people who are willing to (or looking for) people who make logos for $50-$100. Not bad. But still not something I want to spend on something I am not anticipating will make me money. I didn’t really want to try GIMP, which I find as daunting as Photoshop – I just want a simple logo! I am not a Graphic Artist. I don’t want to spend hours making a logo. I wanted something I can use in 10 minutes, something that lets me write colorful text. It appears there is a new Open-Source alternative to Photoshop: Paint.NET. It’s quite simple. It did take me only a few minutes.

Hello, World!

So here I am, world. Here to share my musings on parenting, technology, married life, Christianity, finance, and being a Canadian. Oh and the occasional recipe, because I do love to cook.