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Monday, February 11, 2019

Airbnb and VRBO Have Got to Go


My wife and I have high standards...for different things.  I want very reliable computers, high rates of return on investments, and reliable cars.  My wife wants a very clean and tidy house with everything in its place.

After two experiences with Airbnb and VRBO places in Florida, we have concluded that they don't measure up to our standards.  The places are owned by people who are making money by renting out their house or condo.  Why don't we like Airbnb and VRBO (and similar sites)?

  1. The photos always make the place look much better than it is.  They were taken when the place looked its best and no one takes pictures of the dark drab hallway with old carpet (see above) or the wornout deck furniture.
  2. The reviews are sparse and don't really tell you much.
  3. Once you are committed, there is no way to back out or get your money back unless it is a complete bust and you paid for extra insurance.
  4. There will be extra fees for things like gate passes, key fobs, cleaning..
  5. If something goes wrong like the Internet goes down, you are on your own to get it fixed.  One time, the owner told me to go the Cable company store, tell them I was her brother, and get them to give me a new cable modem.
  6. You are guaranteed that the rugs are dirty, some of the light bulbs are burned out, the towels and sheets are cheap, the pots and pans were burnt and scratched by previous renters, the mattresses are bad, the TVs are old, the walls are marked and need painting, and the blinds and curtains have seen better days.  Basically, the places are well used and there is no motivation for the owner to keep it up to a high standard unless they are getting bad reviews.
  7. The price is less expensive than a hotel, but not that much less expensive.
Both places we rented in 2015 and 2019 were OK and we enjoyed our time in the sun, but we had to adjust our high standards..

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Baack in the USA


After moving back to Canada a few years ago, we decided to avoid the winter by staying a couple of months in Florida.  It is bringing back memories of our move in 1996 from Ottawa to Dallas.

The weather is great..the shopping is fabulous..lots of roads..every product and service available..restaurants galore..mail delivery on Saturday..cheap gasoline..hundreds of TV channels..convenience..low taxes..lots of beautiful women with plastic surgery..gated communities..

But then there are the other sides of the USA:

Areas you should avoid due to crime..anyone could have a gun..TV news that sounds like we are living the apocalypse..Trump Trump Trump on the news..homeless people living on the streets..billboards..lawyer ads..get rich quick schemes..you have to drive to get anything..little recycling, lots of trash..

It just goes to show you that there is no perfect place to live.  You have to know your priorities and decide accordingly.

photo credit: flickr




Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Collecting Canadian (CPP) and US (SS) Pensions



Now that I am getting to nominal retirement age, I am investigating what pensions I might get from the two countries where I worked - USA and Canada.  I worked about 20 years in the USA and 22 years in Canada.  In summary, it's complicated to determine what you might get.

USA

You go to the US SS website, sign in, and you get estimates of your social security pension.  With my earnings record, the pension looked really good.  Then I found out about the WEP - Windfall Elimination Provision.  This reduces your pension if you did not pay into the system for more than 30 years and you are entitled to another pension, like My Canada Pension Plan.  The place to look for information is at this link and you should do your own calculations.  I think my social security pension will be reduced by 20-50% - bummer!  It would be nice to be more precise but the WEP rule is very complicated and not explained well.

This other table seems to indicate that it is limited to a 50% reduction but the maximum decrease is about $400 per month.  I did my own calculations but this seemed to indicate a higher decrease than $400.  The only thing that is certain is that your SS pension will be decreased.

Canada

You go to this website and you can get estimates of your pension.  CPP is not very generous so the little number shocked me (less than half my nominal SS pension without WEP).  I don't think they will reduce it.  If I still lived in the USA, I could get the Old Age Security Pension at 65.  In Canada, it is often "clawed back", meaning it is taxed at 100% and you don't get anything.  I guess the small amount we paid in (less than US social security deductions aka FICA) had a downside.

Summary

Don't count on a big government pension based on SS and CPP websites if you worked in Canada and USA.  You might want to talk to a SS expert in the USA.  Yes, the system is so complex and hard to navigate that you might need to hire someone to help you.  :-(


photo credit: flickr

Disclaimer: this is not professional investment or retirement advice and should be used at your own risk. The author is not a licensed financial advisor. You should not believe everything on the Internet including this blog and should check multiple sources possibly including a professional financial advisor before making decisions.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Canadians Don't Scare Easily


An incident last week reminded me that Canadians, unlike Americans, don't wallow in fear.  Americans love to be scared about crime, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, floods, bad politicians, Trump, guns, restrictions on guns, illegal immigrants, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Ebola, Lyme Disease, Muslims, SARS, solar flares, aliens, and flesh-easting diseases of all kinds.

Last week, we had two tornadoes during the evening 6pm local news broadcast.  The local CTV news station duly reported on what was happening, what Environment Canada was predicting, radar of the storms, damage to buildings.  It was pretty bad with quite a few houses destroyed in Dunrobin, an outlying Ottawa suburb, along with their "Mini Mall".  Just across the river in Gatineau, quite a few apartments were destroyed along with cars.  One of two major Electric substations in Ottawa was completely destroyed.

Well the newscast was coming to an end at 7pm and based on my experiences in the US, I expected 24/7 coverage to continue for the next week.  But instead, the station put on its normal Canadian lightweight entertainment show "Etalk", which was breathlessly covering Justin Bieber marriage rumors and the latest gowns and stars at the Toronto film festival.  A banner kept running underneath with news flashes on the tornadoes, but there was no "OH MY GOD!  LOOK AT THE DEVASTATION!!.." continuous coverage.  I think there might have been a short news flash during ETalk, where we might have missed something about Kardashian babies, but that's about it.

Everyone is concerned, neighbors are helping out, first responders are working hard, donations are being made, politicians have flown in for photo ops and promised aid, but no one is going bonkers like they did in Dallas if a tornado took out a couple of trailers containing meth labs.  Just another sign that Canadians are a little different.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Advantages of Being An Old White Guy

Now that I am retired, I am definitely an old white guy (the blog picture is about 15 years old).  I am not the "get off my lawn, I love Trump, I have a weapon" old white guy, I am the kindly old white guy.  There are advantages to attaining this position in life:

  1. Police will often let you off the hook if they catch you speeding and you are polite since you are a law abiding kindly old white guy.
  2. You can look at sexy women and smile (no leering) and not get a dirty look.  You are completely harmless unless you have 1M points in the Viagra loyalty program.
  3. You can walk around with your fly undone and people assume that you are having a senior moment, not being a pervert.
  4. Every senior discount is yours for the asking.
  5. People will tolerate a little of the "back in the days before email" stories without rolling their eyes, but don't overdo it.
  6. No one will try to sell you thong underwear or Speedo bathing suits at the store.
  7. Children will put up with all your corny jokes and poor attempts at humour.
  8. The border guards hardly ever stop you to pay duty since you are a polite old white fellow.
  9. You can pass off all farts and burps as beneficial and medicinal.  "You don't want me to get acid reflux, do you??"  This works with most folks but not with your spouse, by the way.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Facts for President Trump


I know that President Trump regularly reads my blog when he is not playing golf or watching Fox and Friends for their sophisticated insights on global issues.  I thought I would help you out Mr. President with a few facts.  I included links to your government agencies that provided the facts.

  1. Immigrants work more than native born Americans.  Yes, according to your Bureau of Labor Statistics, "The unemployment rate for foreign-born persons in the United States was 4.1 percent in 2017, down from 4.3 percent in 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The jobless rate of native born persons was 4.4 percent in 2017, down from 5.0 percent in 2016."
  2. The USA has a trade surplus with Canada.  According to your US Trade Representative, "U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $673.9 billion in 2017. Exports were $341.2 billion; imports were $332.8 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $8.4 billion in 2017."
  3. The only time NATO has invoked the mutual defense treaty was to defend the United States after it was attacked on 9/11.  Yes, no other NATO country has asked for support from other members, just the USA.  In spite of you not liking every member of NATO, they stood by the USA.
  4. The following government agencies, organizations, and companies say that Russia meddled in the 2016 election: CIA, FBI, Facebook, Twitter, US Senate, US House of Representatives, UK GCHQ, and your US Ambassador to Russia.  The only people who seem to disagree are you and Vladimir Putin.
  5. According to the US government, you got less electoral college votes (304) than Obama (332 in 2012, 365 in 2008), GH Bush (426 in 1988), Clinton (379 in 1996), and others.
  6. NASA statistics show the planet is warming and CO2 is increasing.

By now you are probably losing interest and thinking about which staffer is most grope-worthy so I will stop here.  Let me know if I can help some more.

Photo: Flickr

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Why is Canada More United Than the United States?


Thirty years ago, Canada was breaking up and the USA was a unified patriotic powerhouse.  Things have changed a lot lately.

In the 80's and 90'sQuebec had a separatist government, there were lots of arguments over West versus East, French versus English, and free trade versus protectionism.  Referendums were held to see if the country should break up.  Then Canada then went through a long period of adjustment where Quebec got more powers in social areas, new political parties were formed and folded, industry adjusted to free trade, people moved within the country to areas with better job prospects, and new immigrants arrived.  This resulted in a more unified country where Quebec sentiment is against separation since most people feel their culture and language is stable, eastern and western attitudes became more liberal, industry adjusted to free trade, and there were periods of left and right wing governments at the provincial and federal level without major problems and disruptions.  This is why Canada is fairly united and happy.  Opposition to Trump has contributed to further unity.

In the 80's, the US faced an existential threat from the USSR and communism in general.  The left and right represented by two parties were united in their support for the USA against this threat.  Then, the threat evaporated as the USSR disintegrated and the USA became the most powerful nation on earth by far.  Things continued as before until American society became polarized between its two parties.  No other parties or organizations were able to form to represent points of view, there can only be two: left or right, liberal or conservative, takers or makers, gun control versus guns for all, Democrats or Republicans.  Now this dynamic has resulted in a President who does not want to unify the country, who wants to only promote himself and his side and vilify the other side.  The USA is about as Ununited as they were in the 60's, and the trend is for more polarization, more enmity, less unity.

Where will it end?  I don't really know.  If I had to make a bet, it would be on China becoming the most powerful nation on earth with the USA in second place, tied with the European Union.

Photo credit: flickr