7 ways to know you’ve got too much debt

"Saturday Night" is a 500 piece puzzle by Cobble Hill.  Available at The Book Vault Inc., Stratford, Ontario.

“Saturday Night” is a 500 piece puzzle by Cobble Hill. Available at The Book Vault Inc., Stratford, Ontario.

When it comes to debt, many people dare not add up the amount they owe, or the total amount of their debt-related monthly payments. To do so would make it all too obvious that they have too much debt. Instead they focus on their ability to afford the monthly payments and skip on their merry way playing the business-as-usual game. And if they’ve been in debt long enough, that game may actually be easy to play.

But even if you do your best to avoid looking at your actual debt numbers, there are telltale signs in your behavior that will give it away in spite of your best efforts to ignore the problem.

You’re having trouble sleeping at night

Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. But if it is becoming a habit, it’s likely that your subconscious is trying to tell you something.

You won’t be able to sleep if you’re worried. It can even come in the form of “something is bothering me, but I don’t know what”. That something may be excess debt. On the surface, you try to block it out. After all, it isn’t an immediate problem. You may do this by immersing yourself in various projects, trying to keep yourself busy during your waking hours. But while you are laying in bed – with no activities to distract you – you subconscious may be keeping you awake.

The truly bad aspect about not being able to sleep is that it will actually magnify your problems, what ever they are. You’ll be adding fatigue to more tangible problems, like debt. And that will lower the chance that you’ll be able to deal with it in an intelligent manner.

You think about your debts – a lot

7 Ways to Know You’ve Got Too Much Debt This is probably a better situation to be in than losing sleep – at least you’re consciously aware that you have a problem. Still, many people are aware enough to worry, but not enough to take constructive action against the problem.

You may even put on a happy face for others, but inside you are aware you have a problem.

If you are disturbed by debt, either consciously or through a loss of sleep, the alarm bells are ringing telling you it’s time to do something about it.

You have no money left over after paying your bills

Ironically, insufficient ability to pay your bills is a major reason for going into debt in the first place. But if you are already in debt and still can’t pay your bills completely, you may already be at the crisis phase of debt.

Your savings account is empty

There is often an exaggerated connection between prosperity and income. The thinking is something like: as long as I have a high and growing income, I’m on the right track, and all is well.”

Maybe not. Income is only half the prosperity equation – the other is savings. As the saying goes, it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep. And if you aren’t keeping much (or any) after paying your bills, the future isn’t bright.

There’s a close correlation between debt and a lack of savings. If your bank account is empty, or nearly so, you could have major problems on the debt front. Savings are the ultimate solution to a debt problem. The more savings you have, the less you will need credit.

You frequently play the “robbing Peter to pay Paul game”

Most everyone finds themselves in this position from time to time. But if you find yourself playing the game more often then not it could be a distress signal that you shouldn’t ignore. It’s time to begin an immediate plan to increase income and lower expenses.

The robbing Peter to pay Paul game is usually in it’s terminal phase when you find yourself borrowing on one credit line to pay another. At that point, you’re about to hit a wall – and hard!

You worry about your credit card charge being denied

Even if you never bother to look at your credit card balances, the fact that you are worried about exceeding them is an indication that you know that you’re getting close. The denial of your card is viewed with cold fear – you know the jig will be up when that happens!

You have a mortal fear that it will happen when someone is with you, causing them to ask questions that you are not comfortable answering.

You’re dreams of achieving financial independence are mostly just…dreams

Many people give up on the idea of ever achieving financial independence when it becomes apparent that they are doing nothing more than muddling through. In a way, it’s a defensive mechanism that allows them to lower their expectations, settle into the unfortunate reality, and even to stop trying.

But optimism is a natural human state of mind that should never be willingly abandoned. It could be time to face your fears and be ready to do what you need to.

Never give up hope!

None of the above are meant to scare you – OK, maybe a little, just to call your attention to a festering problem. After all, denial is another part of the human condition!

But once you become aware of a debt problem, the worst thing you can do is to try to live with it. For one thing, it will only get worse until you run out of options. And for another, it also has a way of eating away at your self-esteem. That will cause other problems that will make everything worse.

If your mind (conscious or otherwise) or your money habits are sending you signals, like any of the above, it’s a time to be proactive and hatch a a workable plan to begin paying off your debt.

Once you get your plan going, the warning signs will gradually go away, one at a time. And as they do, you’ll go back to the natural human state of hoping and working toward that better life you used to dream of.

by Justin, from youngandthrifty.ca, April 30, 2013.

Meet our neighbours – The Space Within


The Space Within is one of the newest business ventures in Stratford’s city centre. It is the realization of a long-time dream for Karen James-Abra, a local marriage and family therapist in private practice. The Market Place business hosts a team of therapists committed to offering the community a safe and nurturing place for personal development and well-being.

Joining Karen is her husband, Bill, who was for many years, a chaplain at the Stratford General Hospital and is now a psychotherapist. Linda was associated with Optimism Place for many years and has been working at the University of Waterloo Counselling Services, both at the Stratford and Waterloo campuses. Linda is married to Brian Tree, a veteran company member of the Stratford Festival.

“The coming together of people to make this dream happen has been incredible,” says Karen. “A year ago, we were looking for property. Now we have a beautiful, newly renovated space on the second level of the old Budd’s feed store.”

Currently, the team of practitioners at the Space Within includes Stratford residents, Anne-Marie Lappano and Martine Becu. Both are certified Integral Coaches. Also part of the team is Cecilia Lara, a registered dietitian. Each of the practitioners provides confidential services where people can feel safe and welcome. They offer individual, couple and group therapy in various creative forms: meditation, energy work, counselling and body-mind awareness practices.

The vision for The Space Within includes partnering with other community resources, and there are always exciting opportunities available! Drop in to see Karen, Bill or Linda to say hello, take a tour, and chat about what these great downtown neighbours have to offer.

The Stratford Gazette, Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

To market, to market

A warm and sunny Sunday was the perfect setting for the first outdoor Slow Food Market of the season, as vendors moved from the Local Community Food Centre to Market Square in Stratford. MIKE BEITZ The Beacon Herald

A warm and sunny Sunday was the perfect setting for the first outdoor Slow Food Market of the season, as vendors moved from the Local Community Food Centre to Market Square in Stratford. MIKE BEITZ The Beacon Herald

After a long, cold winter indoors, vendors finally saw the sun Sunday as the Slow Food Market moved outside to Stratford’s Market Square.

That’s right where it belongs, said market co-ordinator Steve Stacey as shoppers browsed the fresh produce, baked goods, meats and other locally produced items on offer at the tented stalls set up behind city hall. “It’s really the heart of the community.”

This is the third year for the market at Market Square, and the fourth overall since it first began in the parking lot of Monforte Dairy on Griffith Road.

“We started on the periphery of the radar, and we’ve slowly grown and built things up,” said Stacey.

Now, there are 14 regular vendors, and four more that will set up shop later in the season (which, for some, was delayed by the weather).

And more could be added if plans to turn the area behind city hall into a community green space come to fruition.

“We’re really excited about the whole Market Square rejuvenation project,” said Stacey, “and thinking about how the Sunday market could be incorporated into the design.”

It would represent another opportunity for growth, he suggested.

“If we can make it work here in an empty asphalt parking lot, to think of what’s possible in five years’ time if this becomes a green space is really exciting,” said Stacey.

The Slow Food Market will operate downtown Sundays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. until Thanksgiving.

The Beacon Herald, Monday, May 6th, 2013, by Mike Beitz.


Exercise first, improve diet later, if you have to choose: Study

Happy woman exercising at the park and stretching

Researchers have found those strapped for time are better off to begin physical activity first and follow with healthy eating rather than the other way around as some weight-loss programs advise, a new study says.

But the study found introducing exercise and an improved diet simultaneously produces the best results, said lead author Abby King, professor of health research at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“If you need to start with one, consider starting with physical activity first.” King said in a statement Sunday.

Researchers studied 200 inactive people, aged 45 and older, with a goal of improving their health. Members of the first group changed their diet and started exercising all at once, the second group made diet changes and started exercising a few months later, the third group began with a fitness routine then started eating better later and the fourth group didn’t make any changes.

The study found those who improved their died and started exercising right off the bat were more likely than the other groups to meet the guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise a week and five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Those who started with exercise and later followed with healthy eating did a “good job” of sticking to their fitness and diet goals, but not as well as those who dieted and exercised at the same time, the researchers said. Those who started eating right and followed with workouts met their diet goals but didn’t meet the exercise guidelines, the study said.

The study was published online on Sunday in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

The Beacon Herald, Saturday, April 27, 2013, QMI Agency



Meet our downtown neigbours

"Rubber Duckies" is a 100 piece puzzle by SunsOut.  Available at The Book Vault Inc., Stratford, Ontario.

“Rubber Duckies” is a 100 piece puzzle by SunsOut. Available at The Book Vault Inc., Stratford, Ontario.

Shannon Campbell can be considered many things: mother of two, music lover, TV addict, avid reader, long-time radio broadcaster, Fanshawe Alum – and has recently added “Business Owner” and “Employer” to her list of titles. The enthusiastic owner of Marley and Me, located on Waterloo Street, joined Stratford’s list of great local business owners, just one year ago. Although the shop for moms and children has been around for six years, Shannon has given it new life since she took over the reins. “I started here (at Marley and Me) part time and fell in love with the business,” says Shannon.

“I could see a lot of potential and when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped and bought it.”

Since acquiring the business, Shannon has expanded Marley and Me to offer a huge selection of new items for expecting moms, new moms and babies. They are also an authorized retailer of exclusive and popular brands of baby needs.

Before she started working at Marley and Me in downtown Stratford, Shannon graduated from Fanshawe College with a Marketing Certificate and a Radio Broadcasting Diploma which led to a 16 year career in the radio broadcasting industry .

When  Shannon isn’t busy working, parenting, or pursuing one of her many hobbies, she can be found volunteering her time as a Community Connector for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Be sure to drop into Marley and Me and say hello to Shannon – yet another great downtown neighbour!

from the Stratford Gazette, April 25, 2013.

Stressed at work? Add a daily dose of Mother Nature

David Suzuki (David Suzuki Foundation)

Is your office bad for your health and well-being? Unfortunately, a growing body of scientific evidence says yes.

The modern workday pose—fingers on keyboard, slight slouch, glassy eyes fixed on glowing screen, bathed in unnatural light—can drain vitality, happiness, and creativity. Designed to maximize efficiency, this sterile setup actually reduces productivity and job satisfaction.

In fact, modern workplaces are the main reason adults now spend about 9.3 hours a day sitting. Medical journal The Lancet estimates this unprecedented level of inactivity is causing 5.3 million deaths a year worldwide, similar to smoking—prompting the Harvard Business Review to suggest “Sitting is the smoking of our generation.”

The good news is that researchers have built an increasingly persuasive case for what most of us know intuitively: nature is good for us. Being regularly immersed in a natural setting can reduce stress while boosting immunity, ingenuity, and energy.

As neuroscientist Marc Berman explains, adding a daily dose of green to your routine may be the best prescription for dealing with workday stress. His research shows that even simple, brief interactions with nature can improve cognitive control and mood.

Nature Offers ‘Soft Fascination’

Why does green time reduce stress? Various studies suggest exposure to natural settings stimulates “soft fascination”—something New York Times reporter Gretchen Reynolds describes as “a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources.”

Hard fascination, by contrast, is stimulated by bright, loud activities like watching TV or sports, which require little or no effort but don’t allow for mental rest.

Researchers at the University of Michigan estimated that memory performance and attention span can improve by 20 percent after an hour in nature, while University of Rochester studies concluded that being outside for 20 minutes a day is enough to boost vitality.

And a new study from Scotland demonstrated brain fatigue can be eased with just a 10-minute walk in the park.

But how can we fit more green time into our hectic schedules?

The David Suzuki Foundation has a solution. The 30×30 Nature Challenge asks Canadians to commit to spending at least 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days in May.

Participants can take the 30×30 pledge at davidsuzuki.org/30x30Challenge and receive tips about how to add green time to their routines.

Finding your nature fix can be easy. Hold your next meeting outdoors—maybe make it a walking meeting. Invite colleagues to have lunch in a nearby park.

Take the scenic route home and go for a walk in a neighbourhood green space along the way. Stop to smell the flowers and take notice of critters, trees, and plants. Skip the gym, and head outside for a jog or bike ride.

Simple Changes Indoors

Even if you can’t make it outside for a daily dose of nature, simple changes inside can help make you happier and healthier.

As Alan Logan and Eva Selhub document in their book Your Brain on Nature, workers in windowless settings are more anxious, hostile, and depressed than colleagues on windowed floors. Increasing natural light within the workplace has been linked to improved productivity and contentment.

Researchers in Texas even found employees in offices with plants or green-space views felt greater job satisfaction and reported a higher overall quality of life.

Stronger Community Bonds

Increased exposure to nature also leads people to nurture closer relationships and build stronger community bonds.

When Capilano University professor Joe Kelly spent at least an hour a day outside each day this March, he observed that “free of the distractions and background noise present in the city, the serenity of nature provides a perfect venue to connect with others.”

Even the world’s worst boss should know employees who are less stressed and healthier are more productive. So why not sign up for the 30×30 Nature Challenge—and encourage your office mates to join?

Challenge your entire company to head outside for 30 minutes a day for 30 days.

And be sure to take part in the surveys before and after. Tell us how you feel. Does regular time in nature make you calmer? More alert? Happier? Let’s all get into the nature habit. It can make our lives better.

by David Suzuki, from the Stratford Beacon Herald, April 29, 2013. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jode Roberts


How to keep small towns from disappearing

Stratford’s politicians and business community came together to fight for a satellite campus of the University of Waterloo, with its cutting-edge specializations in digital media and global business.

Stratford’s politicians and business community came together to fight for a satellite campus of the University of Waterloo, with its cutting-edge specializations in digital media and global business.

Last week, while taking a new route through a small town, I was excited to spot a factory I hadn’t seen before. I never used to notice factories, until they started becoming an endangered species. But as I drove by this plant’s locked gate and empty parking lot, I realized that — like most of the other factories in this central Ontario town — it had closed.

Across Canada, rural communities are struggling to survive. Farm communities are losing their retail base to big-box stores an hour away. Former resource boomtowns are struggling to survive without their shuttered mines and rusted mills. Towns in the heartland of Ontario and Quebec are wondering what to do with once-sophisticated manufacturing plants that nobody wants. And small towns everywhere struggle to keep their best and brightest youth from drifting to the big cities for brighter lights and better jobs.

“We’re on the verge of becoming a city-state economy,” says Kenneth Coates, a public-policy professor at the University of Saskatchewan. “We could have seven, eight or nine vibrant urban centres with strong economies, attracting most of the activity and investment. Apart from major resource towns such as Fort McMurray, the rest will be poor — just providing raw materials or recreation for city dwellers. This is the challenge for small towns trying to keep their heads above water.”

Does it have to be this way? Coates, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation, doesn’t think so. He says new technology trends could create a revolution in rural and small-city entrepreneurship – but this won’t come easy. To withstand powerful economic forces that are compressing economic growth into leading mega-cities around the globe, he says business and political leaders in Canada’s smaller communities will have to fight hard for their communities to prosper.

Rick Spence, The Financial Post, April 15, 2013

Surviving on $5 a day


How much money does it take to live a healthy, dignified life?

Do the math. It’s probably more than $5 a day.

But that’s the amount the Local Community Food Centre is encouraging people to budget for food as part of the three-day Do the Math challenge next month, aimed at raising awareness of the shortfall in social assistance funding in the province.

“The Do the Math challenge will help people to understand what it is like to live on an extremely limited food budget,” said Elizabeth Anderson, the food centre’s community action co-ordinator, during a presentation to city council this week.

She pointed out that $5 is what an Ontario Works recipient typically has left over to buy food after paying rent and other expenses.

Starting Nov. 19, participants in the challenge will be encouraged to spend just that amount on food for three days, or to pick up three-day food hamper from the House of Blessing (and make a donation of at least $20 to replenish the supplies).

They can’t accept free food or drinks, and can’t use food from their gardens to supplement their diet, but are allowed up to five standard pantry ingredients like flour, oil, coffee or salt.

It won’t be an easy three days, suggested Anderson, but it will likely open some eyes about the impact poverty has on the a person’s physical and mental health.

“The challenge will teach people things that can’t be understood by simply sitting down and thinking through it logically,” she said, “for example, the impact it has on your body, your mind, your ability to concentrate and your temperament. It will make you think twice about having guests over. It will make you consider difficult choices people are forced to make, like taking the bus over walking, or purchasing a new pair of winter boots.”

Participants will be asked to share their experiences online through blog posts, videos and photos, and will be invited to a town hall meeting at the Local Community Food Centre Nov. 22 to share a meal and share their experiences.


The centre will also celebrate its official launch with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that same day.


“I would like to build this into a community experience,” said Anderson, noting that more than 30 people, including local medical officer of health Dr. Miriam Klassen, United Way executive director Ryan Erb and Coun. Kerry McManus, have already signed on to the challenge.

In Stratford, there are currently some 685 adults and 422 children receiving Ontario Works assistance.

By Mike Beitz, The Beacon Herald, Saturday, October 27, 2012

York kiosk hours cut back

York Street tourist kiosk hours cut back

Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff, May 2, 2013

The Stratford Tourism Alliance is cutting back the hours at its York Street visitors kiosk for the summer to help balance its books.

The kiosk will be open from July 1 to September 29 – two months shorter than in previous years, when it was opened in June and closed after Thanksgiving.

Alliance executive director Eugene Zakreski says the non-profit corporation was forced to make the change due to a one-time loss of approximately $275,000 in transitional funding from the province that took the place of  destination marketing fees – an additional three per cent tax charged on room rates by accommodators in the city.

The practice was recently reviewed and upheld by the federal Competition Bureau, and Zakreski says the alliance’s hospitality members will reintroduce the fee in 2014.

The kiosk change also reflects what Zakreski says has been a steady decline in visits; he estimates about 1,000 fewer people used the services at the kiosk over each of the last three years.

At the same time, hits to the tourism alliance’s website and mobile site have steadily been increasing, with overall site visits reaching 600,000 last year alone.

Zakreski says the alliance recently revamped its mobile site so that it is more user friendly, while still ensuring people can access information such as the restaurant guide and special event listings they would find on the traditional site or at the kiosk.

With more people relying on mobile sites, Zakreski says  the alliance will be reviewing its online strategy, particularly with regards to social media, for 2014.

“We believe that mobile technology and smartphones will take the lead on all travel planning in the future,” he says, noting statistics show 57 per cent of people already visit a site on their phone or tablet first when beginning their travel destination search.

“We have to adjust in terms of our web strategy,” he adds.

The alliance has also found more people are attending the alliance’s Downie Street office, and will be extending its hours of operation by one hour this tourist season in response, as well as have additional staff on hand to assist visitors.

Zakreski says the alliance approached its members about making the changes at the kiosk and only heard  concern about the loss of the washrooms facilities for the two months. As a result, he says the city has agreed to keep open the bathrooms from May to the end of October.

The alliance will review visitor comments and feedback during the summer before determining its long-term plans for the kiosk.

On the trail of something sweet

Cathy Rehberg, marketing manager for Stratford Tourism Alliance, welcomes guests to the launch of the Savour Stratford Maple Trail held at Canadian Grub to Go on Downie St. Thursday. (SCOTT WISHART, The Beacon Herald)

Cathy Rehberg, marketing manager for Stratford Tourism Alliance, welcomes guests to the launch of the Savour Stratford Maple Trail held at Canadian Grub to Go on Downie St. Thursday. (SCOTT WISHART, The Beacon Herald)


Caution: take this trail and you might get stuck on it.

It’s the Savour Stratford Maple Trail—a self-guided tour of local sweet and savoury treats much like the chocolate trail or bacon and ale trail.

“Maple syrup is the most highly anticipated crop of the season, it signals spring for us,” said Cathy Rehberg, Stratford Tourism Alliance marketing manager. “This way you can enjoy it all year round.”

Producer Dennis Aarts has been enjoying a long maple syrup season this year. Below seasonal temperatures may be to thank because it discourages the trees from budding.

“It’s been really good but mainly light (syrup),” said Aarts, co-owner McCully’s Hill Farm.

The farm is one of 12 stops on the trail that take maple to a new level, well beyond pancakes. The farm uses maple syrup in sausages, pies and butter tarts to name a few uses.

Grub to Go chef and owner Robert Rose focuses on using Canadian ingredients and maple is an obvious choice. One of the tasty choices is a smoked maple bacon BLT sandwich. He uses local syrup from just outside of Shakespeare.

The chocolate trail was started in 2010 and has broad appeal, Rehberg said. About 70% of participants on the trail are tourists.

“Shopping is important when people are travelling. We want to give people something they enjoy and then build a shopping experience around that, authentic to our community,” Rehberg said.

Part of the idea is to create an experience so that visitors associate chocolate or maple with Stratford and Perth County.

Aarts suggested it’s tricky to compete with a community like Elmira, which is known for its maple syrup festival. However, he noted maple syrup, like wine, seems to vary in flavour by region. The flavour of the syrup in Perth County seems to last on the tongue, he said.

“There’s some good producers around here,” he said.

And there are several businesses taking advantage of those producers. The maple experiences on the trail come both savoury and sweet from tea to milkshakes to maple balsamic and “Canadian Maple Manhattans.”

The cost of the trail is $25 and includes samples at six venues of your choice.

For more information go to www.visitstratford.ca/mapletrail.


By Laura Cudworth, Stratford Beacon Herald, Friday, April 12, 2013