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Household finances

2010: Financial lessons learned Add to ...

1. How much you tip has nothing to do with service

You consider giving that bumbling server who spilled the water and brought you the wrong entrée a measly tip, but you end up leaving your standard 18 per cent. It's not surprising, considering most people tip based on social conventions, not service, Steve Dublanica, former server and author of Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper's Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity, told us. We give the cleaning lady an extra $100 during the holidays not because her vacuuming skills are world class, but because it's expected. It's less a reward for good work than a bribe for future service.

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2. Preteen lust for blood and plastic knows no bounds

We don't remember how Bram Stoker's Dracula paid for his capes, but we're pretty sure it wasn't with plastic. Today's most famous vampires - the Twilight coven - have their pale mugs plastered on prepaid credit cards aimed at preteens and teens. Problem is, critics say the cards promote spending over saving. Until your own undead spawn turn 18 or 19, stick to bank accounts and safer plastic: debit cards.

3. It pays to scale back the celebrations as you age

Those decadent nights out were fine when you were single and flush with cash, but dropping $150 on a birthday dinner and gift when you have a mortgage isn't as easy. If you're still in post-recession recovery mode and can't afford three courses at that swanky bistro for your friend's 40th, eat at home and show up for after-dinner drinks and buy the birthday girl a cocktail.

4. Give a little bit - but ask questions first

Will Canada have to relinquish its international benevolence badge? According to Statistics Canada, our charitable donations have steadily dropped in the past three years. Charities are taking note and now hitting us up for small amounts of cash. Some strategies have been well received (a big chunk of money for Haitian earthquake relief came from text message micro-donations), others not so much (requests for extra cash at store counters). Don't feel like giving? Don't feel guilty. Ask for more information or contact the charity directly.

5. When it's no longer a necessity, frugality can be a game

While the recession may be over, some are still embracing life on the cheap - for sport. Consumers, such as San Francisco blogger Jeffrey Strain, showcased their thriftiness by proudly using coupons (he lived on $1 U.S. a day). Others took their frugality to the extreme. Annie Korzen, author of Bargain Junkie, flipped her underwear inside out to get a second wear before washing. We can get behind using shampoo samples, but c'mon, keep it hygienic.

6. Money messes our ability to savour the little things

Work hard, make money, be happy - the simple formula for the American Dream. But a University of British Columbia study suggests that when dollar signs dominate our thoughts, we're more likely to focus exclusively on the big things we can purchase, and miss out on life's small pleasures. The lesson isn't that money makes us unhappy, the researchers said, but that while amassing our riches we should still stop and smell the roses.

7. There's no age limit to running a lemonade stand

Who said odd jobs for chump change are for kids only? Thanks to new websites, such as Fiverr.com and OddJobNation.com, adults can make a quick buck with whatever talents they have (magic tricks, doodling, impersonating Santa). It makes us wonder: Is there some skill we have that's undervalued at work?

8. Double income, no kids and in debt? Not unusual

This past fall, the Canadian Payroll Association exposed our country's dirty little secret: Six out of 10 of us are in such rough financial shape that we'd be in trouble if our pay was even a week late. Sometimes it's the expense of putting kids through school or simply keeping up with the (much wealthier) Joneses. The wide availability of credit is the chief enabler - why save for a trip to Cabo San Lucas tomorrow when you can put it on plastic today?

9. Victims of the 'mancession' need to talk it out, dude

In 2008 and 2009, four out of every five jobs lost in the United States were held by men, according to the U.S. Department of Labour. Bouncing back from the "mancession" has been harder than past economic slowdowns because it affected blue- and white-collar workers alike. Men's counsellor Dale Curd has this advice to the laid-off hordes: Confide in someone you trust about job-related fears, make a plan and have sponsors to help you follow through.

10. Cross-border shopping is worth it - if you actually cross the border

If you thrive on the energy of thousands of cold, angry Americans stampeding into stores to buy Blu-ray players on Black Friday, well, we can support that. But looking for those same bargains online? Make sure you go through every step of the checkout process before you decide to buy American. Between duties, brokerage fees and shipping costs, it turned out many of the year's hottest toys and personal electronics were still cheaper at Canadian retailers.

Follow on Twitter: @DakGlobe

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