A Money Coach in Canada

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Guest poster and adventuress Amanda Steele has been living and teaching in Moscow since November. Here are some savvy money tips she’s learned!

Moscow is expensive. Period. But, don’t let that little known fact get in your way. It has a lot to offer. With a little street sense, your roubles will go a long way!

1. McDonald’s!
Did you know McDonald’s was invented in Russia? Actually no, but that’s the running myth. Don’t ever over look a McDonald’s in Moscow because they are golden (pardon the pun). McDonald’s has free and clean washrooms. Sadly, more often than not, you pay your 20 roubles to use a washroom and you’re left dealing with a stinky hole in the ground. McDonald’s to the rescue! The key to using the free Wi-Fi without being harassed is to look like you’re eating. A friend of mine entered McDonald’s, collected some random trash off of tables, and then sat in the restaurant for an hour surfing the web. McDonald’s of Russia is nothing like the ones you find in North America. They are well-kept dining experiences.

2. Collect those Flyers!
I spent my first six months in Moscow turning my nose up at people trying to hand me flyers on the street. Finally, my roommate asked me why I wasn’t taking advantage of the great deals. Unlike the street flyers I found in North America or Britain, these flyers actually offered deals- no 10% off your second latte ridiculousness. Always grab a flyer from someone standing outside one of Moscow’s coffee chains (Шоколадница or Кофе Хауз) because they give away two-for-one coffees and sandwiches.

3. Count your Roubles!
Russia is not and I repeat not a plastic society! You will be expected to pay in cash for everything. If you’re paying by credit card then chances are you’re paying for some inflated foreigner benefits. When exchanging money, ensure that you receive small banknotes. You’re expected to pay in cash and to give exact change. If you try to buy a can of cola with a 1,000 rouble note you might be out of luck. It’s wiser to count out your money in coins then risk having to purchase extra items to make the cashier happy.

4. Watch what you eat!
When dining, keep a menu with you. More often than not, the menu will have photos to help you identify your meal. When you receive the bill, review the items on it. Not every restaurant is out to rip you off but it does happen. Some restaurants take advantage of foreigners who can’t read Russian and add extra hoping you won’t notice. Quickly scan your bill for any extra items and compare any unknowns to the menu.

5. Service with a Smile!
Tipping your waiter is still customary in Moscow but you don’t need to go all out. Handing over only 10% is normal and expected. You’re not going to get an overwhelming ‘thank-you’ if you leave 25% nor will you be accosted if you leave 10%. Don’t worry about it.

July features a series of posts on being smart with your money while travelling. Pop by previous posts:

Photo Credit: Neil1877


The UK has a tax (VAT) of 20%.  I reckon I spent approaching $1000 while I was over there (yes, budgeted) which means I contributed to Her Majesty’s Coffers in the range of $150.00+

I dutifully kept all my receipts, but when I got to Heathrow discovered that Receipts Alone Do Not Suffice.

I also needed to show all my goods, which would have been a serious time delay and hassle as they were interspersed amongst my suitcases.

Furthermore, I needed to complete a form each and every time I had made the purchases, and the form is provided by the shop keeper.

Hassle, much?

In any case, I didn’t have time to rifle through my carefully packed luggage, nor had I completed any of the forms.

*le sigh*    I did at least thoroughly enjoy the BBC so I suppose I can find some solace that I benefited from the taxes.

Fellow frugal travellers, headsup:  do the research on reclaiming taxes in advance of your trip!

Oh, and to add to the irritation, I picked up 3 lovely jars of jam from the Harrod’s duty free.  I got through Heathrow just fine, but the security in Calgary pointed out that they were liquids in excess of 100ml so the lemon curd, thick marmalade and raspberry jams are now in some Calgary dumpster.


Photo Credit:  Stewf

Rupert Murdoch (Fox news, News of the World, now x-nayed for the phone hacking scandal, and other tabloids) continues his fall from, well, not grace really, and Conrad Black excoriates him too, as only Conrad can do.  (personal comment:  I have no sympathy.  none.)

Australia is going to start taxing the worst 500 polluters ($25 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted)

Kinder-eggs maker Ferrero (yes, as in those chocolates) may be on shaky ground. (And what the heck?  America forbids the importing of Kinder-eggs?  ai-yi-yi!)

Canadians are slowing their use of credit (money coach breaths a sigh of relief.  And reminds readers that if you’d like to slow your own use of credit, I have a program that will help!)

And Canajun Finance did a nice piece connecting the dots between your personal “credit ceiling” and the situation in the USA.

Just a super – short post tonight folks.   I’m still jet-lagged and the midnight sun compounds it!

But here’s a gentle headsup about summer weekend getaways.

So many of my clients who were feeling broke decided to skip a “real” vacation and instead have a couple (or more) weekend getaways.  Invariably they underestimated, usually significantly, the costs of the weekend getaways.   Typically they thought in terms of about $200, but when they actually tracked expenses of the weekend it was anywhere between $400 – $700.

You may be the exception … but probably not!  So here’s a little test.  Track your expenses next time you go on your getaway:

  • the extra booze
  • the gas
  • the ferry
  • the gift for the host
  • eating out enroute and while at the destination
  • park / camping fees or accommodation
  • toll booths
  • kayak rentals
  • tickets (sports event, shows)
  • dog or cat care while you are absent

There’s nothing wrong at all with getaways or the price of them.  Just give yourself the data about the full costs of these trips so that you can make informed decisions as you stay within your budget this summer.

This is Post #3 in July’s series of money tips for travellers.

Post 1:  How to save money in England

Post 2:  How to save money on accommodation (without sacrificing comfort)



1. Confirm that your debit and credit cards use chip technology This has messed me up in my month in England. My Visa card has the chip but neither of my debit cards do! No merchants can swipe my debit cards, consequently, I have to use my Visa card. This is not great (see #2)

2. Find out how your Visa calculates the exchange rate if you are travelling abroad. This varies from bank to bank. In my case, the exchange rate is first calculated from GDP into USD then into CAD. Some banks charge a double whammy for those to conversations. All banks (I believe) add an “administrative” percentage to the exchange rate. Mine is 2%. . CIBC is 2.5% This isn’t terribly significant but it’s worth knowing what you getting into.

3. Scan your calendar for the time you are going to be away. Are there any one-off or regular payments going to be made? (what’s that? you don’t have those noted anywhere? Hmm. Need a little help getting your money organized? My biz can help). Ensure those payments are organized (cheques left, funds in account or what have you).

4. Call your banks to let them know where you are travelling. Trust me on this – it will save you the time and hassle of your visa card being suspended for “suspicious” activity. (And if that does happen, don’t get mad at your bank. Thank them for protecting your visa).

5. Get travel insurance. First, check what your employer provides and what your credit card provides and what your regular insurer provides. If they don’t, or strike you as insufficient, shell out the extra $$ for peace of mind.

Photo Credit: Clive C