How to change between USD and CAD inexpensively?

Since we moved to Canada twelve years ago, we have maintained a financial presence in both the U.S. and Canada.  Some things don’t follow you (we had zero credit history when we moved here, and had to start again by using a credit card that we had already pre-paid), while other things do (U.S. taxes follow you everywhere!).  And keeping things separate isn’t all that difficult, but moving money back and forth can be tricky.

Enter our home project, at which point we put all of our chips on the table (Goodbye, Roth IRAs!  Goodbye, US Savings!) to make our long-term home.  And to do so, we needed to convert some money from USD to CAD.

Our first step was to open a USD account with our local bank (the Bank of Montréal).  That took way longer than it should have (banks are much more regulated in Canada than in the US, which in theory is good, but means that things can take time!), but now that it is in place, things worked well.  We knew that asking our bank would be the highest cost option, but it works if you are in a pinch.

Then we tried the services of Knightsbridge FX.  Definitely less expensive than our bank (about 1% rather than 2%), but when you are transferring large sums, I don’t want to give up even the one percent if I don’t have to.

Finally, I tried Norbert’s Gambit.  I followed exactly the steps listed in that Money Sense article that I just linked to.  The basic concept is that you buy an ETF in the currency you have, ask your brokerage account to “journal it over” into the currency you want, and then sell the ETF to get cash in the currency you want.  The entire process takes about a week.  It was super simple, and other than the $10 and change that I paid my discount brokerage, Questrade*, there were no further charges.  Plus, it has a fantastically geeky name, which I love.

How do you move money around without paying big fees?

* Questrade: If you sign up for a new account, feel free to use my QPass key: 316522124408373.  You get a bonus based on the initial amount that you place in your account ($25 – $250), and I get a flat $25 bonus.  I only recommend products and services that I use and appreciate, and for low-cost trading, I think Questrade is the best.   


Photo of the day – 19 October 2017

Today’s photo shows where the magic happens!


Because let’s face it; electricity is totally magical.  Here we see the wires running in for our heat pump, which will be a primary heat source in the winter (until it gets really, truly cold!) and provide cooling in the summer.  The wall units (2 on the second floor, 2 on the third floor) are strategically placed across from the doors in their respective rooms so that the air can flow when the doors are open.

The white, rigid, plastic pipes are where the condensation from the cooling units will run through the walls.  These need to run directly downward to avoid stagnant water.

Very soon, the behind the scenes work will be finishing and I will just be showing you pictures of drywall!



Photo of the day – 18 October 2017

Today’s post is inspired by the saying, “when the s*** hits the fan,” but in this case, it is where the crap hits the pipe!

This is the place where it happens!

Have you ever noticed that in the majority of apartment buildings, the toilets and plumbing are lined up right on top of one another?  That’s because you want this particular drain pipe to go out of your home as directly as possible.

Given that our home is just a smidge more than 16′ from north to south, our toilets will all run along that north-south axis.  What you see in today’s photo is the pipe on the ground floor, with a view into the ground floor powder room.

While we were sensitive to this issue, we were strongly steered in this direction by our architect, who made sure the design made things (relatively) easy on our contractor.

And just for reference at the breakneck speed of construction over the past week, here is a photo of the same place from one week ago:

20171011 pour poster le 18

Photo of the day – 17 October 2017

On the south side of our extension, there must be a fireproof wall to separate our home from the next, so voilà, our wall!


So much was done yesterday!  In addition to this wall, there was foam insulation, electricity, plumbing, closet construction, and other brick work.  That makes for at least six people working our our little home yesterday.  I can barely say it without breathing more quickly because of how much our next bill will be… 😉

Photo of the day – 16 October 2017

Pocket doors and electrical wiring were happening today on our homestead!  Last Tuesday the electrician came in and placed the boxes and things where they should be, and today the actual wires are running all through the house!

The beginnings of a bathroom

Here in our third floor bathroom, you can see the wires hanging down for lighting, as well as a thermostat (I am fairly certain that is what that red cord is).  The little wooden cage that has 30″ written on it is where the pocket door will disappear away.  We’ve chosen a frosted glass door to give a bit of extra light to the internal bathroom.

Speaking of lighting, I also tagged today’s post as “frugal,” because we managed to find one electrician who gave us a quote at half the price of another.  He was referred to us, and has excellent references (we went back for more when we saw his quote!).  It was a good reminder that shopping around pays off!

Photo of the day – 13 October 2017

All of the spaces have been created for our massive 8-foot sliding windows.  And on the third floor, as you see below, the space that was a door has been filled in.


We also had a budgeting conversation for the back facade, balconies, and stairwell today, which freaked me out.  More about the budgeting process later…

Photo of the day – 11 October 2017

There is so much in today’s little photo!

This is the north wall on the ground floor.  There are two closets and one small powder room in this little space.  You can also see there is ducting work there for a vent in the powder room.  In addition, the electrician and his team were there on Tuesday, and the plumber is coming later this week.  Things are moving!


The tiny slit you see toward the end of the wall is the space for our pocket door.  We will have mostly pocket doors to reduce the need for space from swinging doors.

Photo of the day – 6 October 2017

I will finish off the week with the interior of the roof on my addition!  The fancy joists are super strong, but designed so that wiring and plumbing can be weaved right through them.  That will be particularly helpful on our ground floor, since we stole some headroom to make the basement a more comfortable height.



When I asked how they covered the roof the night before they built it, the foreman told me that they didn’t!  He basically told me that if someone wants to enter a worksite, they are going to make it happen.  At this point in the process, I was more concerned for their tools than our future home!

Photo of the day – 5 October 2017

Yesterday, I shared photos of the opening that had been made for the addition.  Today, I can show you the addition!

20171005 outside
Here is the outside.  Goodbye, old door!  

So behind those chairs to the left you can see the little nook where the basement window will be.  Just above that there will be a window to the kitchen, there will be another window on the wall that is perpendicular to us, and on the wall that we see, the door will be to the left and a large sliding window to the right.

20171005 inside
And here is the inside!  

This will be kitchen space; counters and cupboards and lots of windows, allowing the kitchen and dining areas a bit more breathing room…