Category Archives: Reviews

Are 60% of Canadians Really Living Paycheck to Paycheck?

Much media attention has been given to a recent poll by the Canadian Payroll Association, which (among other things)claims that 59% of respondents would find it financially difficult if their paycheck was delayed by a week. This story has been picked up by several newspapers, but my question is: can we trust the interpretations of the data?

Taking a look at the actual poll from the Canadian Payroll Association, I’m left with a lot of questions about the data-set used to come up with the numbers, especially in connection with Canada’s workforce. For example, though women make up roughly half of the Canadian workforce, they account for 73% of those surveyed. Not that this deters from the findings in relation to an individual who is concerned about his or her financial wellbeing, but it does raise the question of whether this is an accurate representation of Canadian workers or not.

A second issue I have with the survey is that there is no breakdown of industry. Knowing what workers were polled would give greater insight into the demographic validity of the survey.  A disproportionate number of steel workers, for example, could very easily skew the findings. The closest question is about respondants’ position within their organization, in which case we can see that 66% are in non-management rolls. 

My problems with the demographics continues in regard to the geographic location of those polled. Though Alberta, for example, makes up only 11% of the Canadian workforce, workers from Alberta make up 32% of the survey data. On the flip-side of this is the fact that workers in Ontario and Quebec make up 38% and 23% of the workforce, yet only make up 27% and 8% of the survey respectively.

I’m also a bit unsure of how to interpret to what degree a financially troubling situation is. Michael James on Money raised this point in a recent article, and looking at the survey gives us no help. We are left wondering what each respondent’s thought was when she or he answered.

The actual question is “If your pay cheque was delayed for a week how difficult would it be to meet your current financial obligations?” The 59% number is actually the sum of 3 possible answers: very difficult, difficult and somewhat difficult. “Somewhat difficult” sounds more like the annoyance that is talked about in the linked article above.  

Beyond the question of ‘what is difficulty’ I am also wondering what a ‘financial obligation’ is. I could give myself the financial obligation to put a certain amount of my paycheck to a retirement plan, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I skipped a week, or pulled from savings to make that RRSP contribution.

So can we trust the numbers? I  say yes and no.

Though I don’t think we can take the survey and say with accuracy that 60% of Canadian workers are living paycheck to paycheck, I do think we can probably take the numbers as an indication that there is a high proportion of Canadian workers that could find themselves in financial difficulty. Whether the real number is 60% or 40% is not important; the survey is a pointer to a problem.

I do think there are some interesting points in the survey though. While there is a general feeling of worry on one hand, 68% received a wage increase in the last year (though it may or may not have matched inflation), 62% of those surveyed expect a wage increase within the next year, 92% feel confident that their taxes and benefit deductions are accurate, and 67% feel the economy in their town or city will improve over the next year.

Another great thing about reading the actual survey is the inclusion of a select number of actual responses. Reading those comments from people makes you realize that there is a large number of people who are worried about debt, housing and their children’s education. And that is far more important that any numbers game.


A Look at the WestJet MasterCard

I’m in the market for a second credit card (for a reason I’ll explain in a future post) and thought the new WestJet MasterCard from RBC would be the thing. I’m not so sure anymore.

The reasons I was interested in it were:

  1. One percent of all purchases (or 1.5% for the premium card) would accumulate in WestJet “dollars” that could then be used to buy WestJet tickets.
  2. I thought the 1% card may be fee-free.
  3. I figure we will be flying a fair amount once we move to Canada, so stocking up on WestJet dollars would be of future use.
  4. It is through RBC, meaning I can easily take care of it through my online banking.

Then they announced further details of the cards. The basic card will have an annual fee of $39, and the premium card will carry a charge of $79. At $39, you would have to charge $3900 to your card just to break even of the annual fee, assuming normal purchases. Not exactly what I have in mind as a second card.

The first year would be a little cheaper, however, as the first time you use the card you are given $25 WestJet dollars ($100 for the premium card) meaning that the first year you only need to charge $1400 to break even.

Depending on your situation, how much you charge, and how much you fly, this card may be for you. If you do fly often, a bonus of 0.5% is added when you use your card to pay for WestJet tickets. Considering I currently only put about $2500 on my main card per year, I’ll have to do a little more thinking.

Review of OpenOffice Part 1

Last weekend I found myself in the situation of having to get a document edited and sent off quickly. I hadn’t installed MS Office for Mac on my new computer, so went into my office to find the discs.

No discs. I left them in Canada.

After a brief bit of insanity where I considered buying a new copy, I remembered an old article in Money Sense Magazine about good free software.

OpenOffice from Oracle is a free for download, and seems to be able to do pretty much the same as MS Office. Part one of this review is just a little bit about my initial thoughts of the software after using it for the past few days.

First off, it has all the basic components that you would expect in office software: word processing, a spreadsheet program, presentation software and a database. Since I had to edit documents I had previously created in Word, that was the first test.

It opened my English Word file with zero difficulty, and all the formatting, layout and spacing was identical to the original version. I was able to add to the document without any problems, and OpenOffice allows you to save as a Word document.

Opening a document that was written in Japanese, however, there was a slight shifting of a column of text, where the main problem was that the tab key moved the text at a different spacing than MS Office did.

I was able to get around the problem within 3 minutes by making a two-column table, dropping the text inside, and then making the table invisible.

I had a moment of fear when I went to print (I wasn’t really going to print, but in MS Office, you can create a pdf file from the print screen) and there was no option to save as a pdf. A little bit of searching through the menu bar, however, and I was able to find the option to “export to pdf”, which saved it perfectly.

I was really happy to see that there was no problem reading Japanese characters, but I think that has more to do with my OS than OpenOffice.

With all that out of the way, I thought I would test out an Excel document. I was a little disappointed with the way it imported a graph, but it was just a matter of size more than anything.

More important that the size of the graph, however, I should say that the most important thing was that all cells and formulas were imported perfectly.

I’ll be honest with you; I have no idea when “Part 2” of this review will be written. The above is a synopsis of my initial thoughts, and after I use the software for a while I will continue the review.

I will say this, though: I see no need to install MS Office.