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My iPhone didn’t have quite enough volume. Meanwhile, Hollywood was going a bit loud on the special effects and music, making it hard to pick out the dialogue. And with a nod to Jerry Seinfeld, what is with all of these soft talkers?

About 20 years ago, I had a hearing test that showed some high frequency hearing loss. But I mean, come on, the beeps were so soft I could barely hear them. What could that test show? Another test, several years later, included a section on repeating spoken words. I did well until the technician covered her mouth with a sheet of paper and re-ran the test. I had no idea how much I relied on lip reading to understand speech.

Like most people with hearing loss I waited a good 7 years to get help. Actually that is the average, I likely waited more like 12 years. Why do people wait so long? Two reasons: vanity and the high cost of hearing loss solutions. But with a bit of digging, I found a hearing loss solution for free. If you suffer from the issue, blast out the family with the TV, or ask people to repeat themselves constantly, read on.

Start with a hearing test from a doctor

I began with a referral from my GP. Good to start with a doctor in case there are any other underlying causes of the hearing loss. After a comprehensive test with lots of very quiet (or absent) beeps, I got the results. Normal age-related hearing loss that arrived about 10 years early. Likely too many construction jobs in my youth before hearing protection was in vogue.

I left with an audiogram that showed good hearing at low frequencies, good for male voices, drum beats and doorbells. The high frequencies were the issue and they impacted the sounds of birds singing, water splashing and leaves rustling. Vowels are spoken in low frequencies, but consonants are high, which is why I can hear someone say “cat” very clearly. Unless it was “bat”. Or could it have been “that”?

The search for a hearing loss solution

I began at a well-known chain and was pleased to see that the aids were on a buy one, get 50% off on the other discount. The tiny machines were slick as can be. Barely visible and once in place, my hearing was nearly bionic. Incredible. So was the price at $6,500. Including the discount. The technician helpfully noted that the price included 3 years worth of batteries. Hmm. The battery savings could be a big deal. But these units were awesome and even connected right into my iPhone. I could take calls directly in my brain. Amazing. Could this be my hearing loss solution? Not so fast.

On to the next provider. Lots of gear plugged into my ears and more whispering beeps. Same results – significant high frequency loss. And significant high cost at about $6.500 for the pair. They recommended a different brand, but didn’t have a live set to try out.

I like to use Consumerreports.org to research major purchases (more on that here) and they showed that Costco was highly rated as a provider, so I made the pilgrimage. Yet more ear testing with a very similar result. The tech popped in a set of their house-brand Kirkland Signature 8’s. Yes, there is something a bit weird about buying hearing aids that share a brand name with courderoy pants, frozen broccoli, tool chests and Tilapia loins, but hey, they sounded great. Incredibly they were also Made for iPhone and even included a Lindsay Wagner type app (google it) that lets you check battery life, change the microphone focus and even use your phone as a remote mic. Very slick. Until I found the catch. No free batteries. What? How much for the batteries? $11.50 for 6 months of batteries, or $23 for the year! That first retailer that “included free batteries” wasn’t looking that great.

So what is the hearing loss solution for free?

Turns out that the Costco Kirkland Signature 8 Hearing Aids are only $1,900 for the pair. No tax. As in 1/3 the cost of the other quotes. Here in Ontario, there is a government grant of $1,000 for aids and I had enough benefit coverage to pick up the other $900. So the only real cost was the gas to get to Costco. I had a couple of fitting issues but they gave me an appointment one day later and got everything fixed. And yes, they are all licensed audiologists, just like the other retailers.

They have worked great for the first couple of weeks. I can understand speech in  TV shows and the waves in Lake Ontario have a “swish” sound now as well as a “whoosh”. Leaves rustling are loud enough to scare me. No more lip reading and I can understand people on the first try. Great to reconnect to the world. And no one knows they are there. Except my Cashflow Cookbook readers!

I saved enough to get a spare pair or two or just about make a whole TFSA contribution. Will they keep working this well? I will do another blog post in a couple of months with an update.

If you have hearing loss, don’t wait, get your ears checked. And there is a reason that Costco Hearing Centres are opening faster than Costco outlets overall.

Update – the results of my 6 month test are available here.

Do you have hearing loss? What have you found with hearing loss solutions?

Photo credit Ken Chan from Unsplash

If you have any university or college almost-graduates in your family, they are about to be launched as young professionals in their chosen field. However comprehensive their program, it likely included everything they need to succeed in their career, but little to nothing about how to succeed financially once they start to earn. They are nearly defenseless against thousands of marketers who are cleverly looking to prey on their paycheques. Although they don’t want your advice on dating, clothing, or music, they do need your help getting set up financially. Mom and Dad, I am talking to you.

Step 1. Start their financial library

Get them on the habit of reading a good personal finance book a month. Spend a hundred bucks to get things started. Best investment ever. The right books will shape their thinking and build good habits from the start. Here are some great ones:

  • The Richest Man in Babylon – George Samuel Clason – timeless lessons about how to make money work for you, vs the other way around. Cool Babylonian vibe. Great for history majors!
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad  – Robert Kiyosaki – turns around the notion that the rich people are the ones with the BMWs. They’re the ones with the payments. Who knew? Dads with small hats are often the ones with the cattle.
  •  Wealthing Like Rabbits – Robert R. Brown – a whimsical and fun tour through everything about personal finance. Perfect all-in-one starter kit.
  • Moolala  – Bruce Sellery – Simple, unintimidating five-step plan to get your grad started on a great financial path. His podcast on iTunes is also worthwhile.
  • Mr. Money Mustache Blog – Best blog on inspired living through frugality. Personal favourite post – “How to move heavy appliances on your bike”.  Strangely addicting. Bad ass vibe. And free. Subscribe your kid.
  • Carrick on Money Newsletter – sign up here (scroll down) – great survey of the freshest personal finance thinking on the web. Everything from frugal tips to mortgage rules and that great Canadian enigma: To TFSA or RSP?
  • Young Money Podcast – Tracy Bissett – has guests with every angle on how to set up young people for financial success.
  • Cashflow Cookbook – I know, I know – a bit shameless. But 60 easy financial “recipes” to save your grad a fortune on every kind of recurring expense. Wish I read it in my 20’s. Bonus: enough cooking puns to fill a roasting pan.

Step 2. Help them with the big decisions

After 4 years of enduring cold pizza, smelly roommates, grimy clothes and crowded buses, junior may want to rebound with some well-earned luxury. A new car, a one-bedroom apartment, a high-end gym membership. A Roomba on 5 easy payments. Kidding on the last one. At least my kids never longed for cleaning gear.

But these recurring expense decisions can have a big impact on their wealth over the coming years. A common mistake is to look at what can “fit” into their paycheck vs what will optimize their wealth (and financial freedom) over time. Shared accommodation can save $1,000 a month vs living solo. Living in your basement for the first year can save another $500 a month while they get started. (I told my kids that zoning laws don’t allow it, am hoping they never check the local statutes). A 3-year-old modest car can save $500 a month vs a new, more luxurious one. Skipping a car and walking or biking can save another $500. Learning to make a few easy meals can save them another $200 a month or more on dining out.

Together these tweaks can free up a thousand or two a month toward their TFSA and/or student loan pay down. Getting these habits in place can spare them from being chained to paychecks into eternity.

Step 3. Set them up a net worth spreadsheet

Lots of people talk budgeting. Not sure how many people actually track to one. Not my idea of fun. And good luck selling the idea to your kid! A better approach is to track net worth: what you own minus what you owe. Very simple. It may well be negative when they start, but that’s no problem. Have them update it each month as they carve out funds for debt payment and savings. It’s gratifying to see the numbers go from red to black over time, or to see more commas emerge in the bottom line. It’ll give them the freedom to start their own company, take a world travel sabbatical, buy a house, or retire early and help people halfway around the world. Seek meaning instead of seeking a living. 

The act of tracking net worth makes everything look different. Buying a new car plunges their net worth the day they drive it off the lot. A used car likely increases both what they own and what they owe, but their net worth doesn’t change. Hmm. A mall splurge on clothes they don’t wear takes a toll on net worth. Quality stocks growing in their TFSA increase their net worth without them doing anything.

Tracking net worth provides new lessons all the time and gets them thinking different. Maybe some lessons for you here as well! You can download a simple free net worth tracker in the Utensils Section, and check out my blog post that will help you learn to use it.

Step 4. Get them all the accoutrements

No need to even go to a bank branch. Charge up your wireless mouse and have at it! Help them get set up with a chequing account, credit card, TFSA and a savings account. Get automated bill payments set up for rent, cell phones, and gym memberships. It’s critical to get some automated savings in place right from the start. Something like payroll deductions for RSP or stock purchase plans, or biweekly chequing account deductions that head straight to their TFSA. Start the savings habit early! As they find ways to save, encourage them to increase their contributions and watch their net worth grow.

Step 5. Do a student loan review

If junior racked up some loans in the pursuit of knowledge, help them assess the right payback schedule and options. Are there cheaper ways to borrow? How can they optimize their expenses to pay it back sooner?

Be sure that the student loan is included in their net worth tracker and that they avoid adding more debt while whittling it down to size.

Step 6. Help them understand their company benefits

If they have been successful in finding a job, it’s time to review all of their company benefits with them. Company savings plans (401K, RSP matching, stock purchase plans) offer a great way to start their savings and it can be worth some sacrifices to fully take advantage of these plans. Many young people leave this free money on the cubicle.

Company medical and dental benefits are also worth a read. Most new employees can get their teeth around the dental plan, but they may miss some of the other benefits later in the booklet like eyeglass plans, massages (what the heck?) travel insurance, and prescription medical. Read the benefits book with them. Kind of like you used to with Harry Potter. Less magical. More profitable.

Above all, help them get a great start on their life

After all they have an asset that we don’t have. Their youth. Make sure they get the most out of it.

Photo Credit: David Marcu

Last week, I ordered a chick pea and kale wrap for dinner. I know, I know. A bit rabbit-ish. Then came the option of fries or salad. Isn’t that one a bit obvious? Who would order the healthiest thing on the menu and then pair it with a basket of fries? But man, the fries looked good. Oh well. Salad it was. And just a glass of ice water to drink.

To the outsider, the dinner looks a bit Spartan — pretty bland fare to say the least. Who would pass up the bacon poutine for a dinner like that? Did I lose a bet? Was I being punished for something?

No. It’s a habit.

How to build a healthy food habit

If I can shift my mind from what looks tasty to what my body needs, some surprising things happen. My cravings want more kale, more chick peas and more Brussels Sprouts. OK, kidding on that last one. But you get the idea. It’s all about forcing a new habit until that new habit forces you into good. It’s just 30 days of adjustment and the new stuff actually becomes tasty! Why a glass of water? Because after a few weeks of just water, anything else is too sweet. And after all, something like 60% of our body is water. So, we need more of it! If 60% of our body were Diet Coke, then we would need to replace the Diet Coke that we lose with sweat. See my point? The exception, I’d say, is a good glass of Malbec. But I was headed to the gym that night and needed the water, so the wine would have to wait.

My habit keeps me fit

Working out is similar. A few days without running, and the first km is painful. Not painful like a session with an amateur acupuncturist — more like the “why am I here?”, and “I wonder if my bed is still as cozy as it was when I left it?” kinds of pain. But many of my rough-starting runs turn out to be my favourite ones. If I can push past that first kilometer, my stride smooths out, thoughts wander, and the kilometers glide by. If I log a few weeks of 3 runs a week, I can’t do without them. Take a couple of weeks off and the open road just does not call me. Even if it did, I wouldn’t pick up. My energy levels drop, and sleep becomes evasive. It’s just as tough to get the running habit restarted.

Personal finance is driven by habits too, and they work the same way as the eating and running ones. Take a trip to a mall and try to return empty handed. That’s what I thought. Get into the pattern of spending within a budget and we tend to spend right up to that budget. With Canadian consumer debt at 170% of incomes, it looks like we have even gone a wee bit past our budgets. Once you’re seduced by the smell and gloss of a new car it’s hard to consider a pre-owned one. If you get used to heading out for lunch each day, the bother of a little Sunday night prep will seem too onerous.

Use the force of habit to build wealth

But start to develop your positive financial habits and they will create a powerful addiction. Forget budgeting. Build a simple net worth sheet and track your progress monthly until you get the hang of it, then switch to quarterly. (You can download a free net worth sheet to start from the Utensils Page.) Use it to Log what you own and what you owe and focus on the difference between the two. Is your financial value rising or falling? Are you making progress toward financial independence, or just gathering more things that depreciate?

With a focus on building net worth vs tracking to a budget, your decision-making process will change. Bringing a lunch could save $8 a day. That isn’t a lot on its own, but it adds up fast! That little daily savings tallies to $168 a month. Sounds pretty good right? Invest that in your TFSA for 10 years at 7% and you would have nearly $30,000. Peel out another $8 a day on the coffee and a saturated fat-laden, cholesterol-boosting muffin and you free up another $168 a month for a total of $60,000 extra in your TFSA. It’ll be some of the easiest money you ever make, and it’ll be healthier for you too. Such a fantastic start. Once you’ve got that down, you can find a few more do-betters and your wealth will accelerate!

Focus on net worth

Once you focus on net worth and get the ball rolling, more good financial habits will follow. There are dozens of them that are easy to implement with low sacrifice. Over time your wealth will accumulate, and you’ll free yourself up for some new options. Maybe you’ll travel the world while your money grows! Or perhaps start that small business you’ve been dreaming of since your 20’s. Or if you’re the giving type, you could make a big, lasting gift to your favourite charity.

There’s no time like the present! Let me know how you’re doing with applying the force of habits in your diet, fitness, and financial worlds in the comments section below. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Cashflow Cookbook is all about increasing financial literacy and building financial independence with minimal sacrifice. Share if you enjoyed this.

What if you could have 50% off everything you ever wanted?

Oh, and what if there was also no sales tax? Of course, this sale has existed forever with people selling things that they hardly used. How different is a well-maintained, year-old tennis racket from a new one? What’s likely to go wrong with a 3-year-old coffee table? Fender Guitars claims that 41% of the people buying new guitars are beginners and that 90% give up playing within a year. That’s a lot of beautiful guitars on sale at about 50% off. And with no tax. There’s just one issue: how do you find this stuff?

Yard Sales are Hit or Miss.

One approach is to hunt yard sales in the spring. The bargains are all there, often at more than 50% off. But the logistics are bad. Driving around, sifting through lots of salt and pepper shakers and ashtrays (remember those?) to find that vintage turntable you’re after. Then there’s the issue of buying extra junk that seemed like a good idea at the time. You know, the type of junk that makes it to the curb of your own yard sale a year later. Yes, the pricing is often 50% off, but good luck finding exactly what you want. And if you want something in the fall, you need to wait for the spring. Painful.

Craigslist and Kijiji Have the Goods. Somewhere.

As yard sales moved online, the driving went away and the selection blossomed. Maybe too much though. Searching for, say, exercise gear means reading dozens of online pages, combing through each one for exactly the right equipment. Getting the full picture involves clicking into each ad to get the details, the location and the item condition. Not so fun.

And then you need to actually contact the seller, hope they respond, and set up a time to actually see and test out the stuff. How is this better than a yard sale again?

Then, when you inevitably fail at finding what you’re looking for the first few times you check, you’re stuck continuously checking back for new listings. And what about trying to keep track of the listings you found earlier. Is the stuff still available? Oh, and did you already respond to that one out in the West end?

Put Your Online Shopping on Autopilot

Buried somewhere in most of these online classifieds is an Alert function. Beautiful. Do some digging. It is in there on most of the online classified tools. Once you find it, you can start a search for exactly what you need (or want). Maybe it’s a pre-1969 Dylan vinyl, or a KitchenAid blender, or a log splitter for the cottage, or a set of 205/55/17 Michelin X-Ice snow tires on VW factory rims. Or maybe you’re hunting some vintage gold jewelry for your anniversary. Whatever it is, you can set up the Alert just how you like it. It only takes about a minute. Then you can go about your business, whatever it is that you do do.

Call Me When It’s Ready

A week or a month later, up it will pop in your inbox. A little alert that someone has the thing you crave. Have a peek! Delete it if something isn’t quite right, and maybe refine the alert. But sooner or later it will arrive. Exactly what you wanted. Just like my Fender Stratocaster with the maple neck and the Sienna finish. It took about a minute to set up the alert, and just a couple of weeks for the good news to arrive. After an hour of driving and $1,000 cash, voila! I saved $1,400 on my new guitar. An amount that continues to grow in my TFSA.

Buying high quality pre-owned items is a great way to free up cash to invest and build a path to financial independence.

If you really need a new one or can’t find a used one, maybe think about shopping off-season. Learn more about that here.