Thursday, 18 August 2016

Don't Kiss Your Chickens, Do Kill Your Darlings

It's been hard to write an original post lately. I put up my weekly columns mostly to keep some traffic happening on the site. But I've realized what keeps me from posting is that I had begun a post about the ridiculous advice I heard on the radio the other day "Don't kiss your chickens". The advice is good--the need for it is ridiculous. I wanted to draw the correlation between a society that puts Donald Trump in a race to be leader of the free world and a society that now sews diapers so that chickens can come right in the house, and where people actually need told not to kiss their birds. Because that will make you sick, you see.

And the post wasn't working out very well; it wasn't witty and I don't understand the American system well enough to preach about it here and, frankly, who cares what I think about Donald Trump and chicken kissers.

But it did get me thinking abut the writing process. I've committed to writing more. Writing daily. I want to take myself on a writer's retreat next year for my 40th birthday and I want to have a few pieces that are worth working on with focus. I finally realize that when I am hung up on a concept I just have to let it go and keep on writing. I've been writing in the evenings even though I know that, so far, none of it is very good. But I have to keep trying so that (hopefully) soon something decent crosses the page that I can delve into and turn into something real.

Rather than treating every idea like it must be "the one" and then panic when it turns out to be nothing, I'm trying to exercise my skills and use some prompts and practice making stories come to life. And I'm trying to stay calm that, so far, inspiration is nil. But like trying to sort out a blog post that wasn't working, sometimes it's best to just get on with it and let those darlings die so you can move forward. So that's what I'm doing :)

How is everything with you?

Weekly Column: Outfitting Kids for School

Dress for Success: Outfitting Kids on a Budget

Although parents may not want to think about it, back to school is just around the corner. Putting off getting prepared, as in most things, might end up costing you extra money. The time to start watching for sales on clothing is now. But where to look?

Take Inventory

Go through your children’s closets. What do you need for shoes, boots and winter clothing? Do they need a few new things to spruce up their back-to-school wardrobe? Try to purchase a size up to account for sudden growth spurts. Make a list of what you are watching for and stick to your list.

Shop off-season

Just as your kids are busy wearing out their swim trunks, shorts and flip flops, stores are beginning to clear out their summer stock. Now is the time to watch for next year’s sizes at a reduced price. Yes, money is tight and you need to gear up for school. But you will be buying these things next year—don’t wait and pay full price if you can help it. Similarly, watch for winter boots and snow suits if you have no alternative but to purchase new. But remember, you must only buy what is needed.

Online, New and Used

There are great clearance deals to be found online. Factor in the cost of shipping, though, and consider if it is really saving you money. Could you support a locally owned business instead? If your budget is tight this year, use great discretion when shopping online. Wait a day before going through the virtual check out. You may find you are not as impulsive after a good night’s sleep.

Are you fortunate enough to be offered hand-me-down clothing for your kids? Have you shied away from accepting in the past? Look at it this way: most clothing is made in poor countries with dismal working conditions. But when you buy or accept used clothing you reduce the demand for more of it to be produced. You also delay that item being taken to a landfill. Sort through hand-me-downs; keep what you can use and either donate or give away what you can’t. If you have invested a bit more money in some items for your children, you might want to list them on kijiji or have a garage sale of your own to get some money back. Feel good that you are passing on some savings to another family while saving a bit for yourself.

Are your children fashion divas? This is an excellent opportunity to teach them about the value of money. If they insist on the brand name ball cap and shoes, let them see how much money there is per child for clothing this year. Allow them to help decide how that money will be allocated. Allow the child to perform extra chores and try to find a compromise between new and used that works for everyone.

Thrift stores, garage sales and second hand sites

For those not blessed with a large extended family or friends with older children, there are still many ways to save on kids’ clothes. Local thrifts stores like For the Interval Store, LABIS Second Chance Clothing and The Olive Branch all donate the proceeds of their sales to great local causes. You might need to keep checking back to find what you are looking for, but you are likely to save a bundle. The same can be said for cruising garage sales and online sites like kijiji or different Facebook groups.

How much is enough?

Having less money is stressful but it gives everyone a reason to examine their priorities. How much do we really need to be happy? How much, realistically, should we spend on clothes for our kids? If they are warm enough, clean, well fed and loved, are those brand name clothes going to make them better people?

Downsizing the budget for kids clothing doesn’t reflect on your parenting. Having a couple outfits for school and a set of play clothes to change into afterwards teaches kids routine, responsibility, and respect for their belongings. If kids learn to fold their once-worn clothing and put it away for tomorrow, parents might spend less time doing laundry—an added benefit. Is it really that radical to suggest that we buy our kids clothes only when they actually need something? Ask yourself this: would you rather your kids have designer name brand clothing now, or an education savings plan later? Is keeping name brand clothing on their backs threatening the roof over their heads? Having your children dressed stylishly in stain-free, good quality clothing can be done on a tight budget if are always watching for great deals. The more effort you put in, the more you will save.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Weekly Column: Convenience Costs

Convenience Costs

It seems that people are living at a faster pace these days. An interesting question might be: what came first, the hectic pace or the drive thru? Did we begin cramming more activities into our everyday lives and thus require a faster way to pump food into our bodies, or did the availability of cheap food-on-the-fly allow us more time for the things we want to do? While picking up take-out and hitting a drive thru have become a daily or weekly ritual for some, hopefully we can all remember a time when that wasn’t the case.

If fast food wasn’t an option

Imagine for a moment that grabbing supper on your way home was not an option. Or, if the only alternative to cooking was a sit-down restaurant meal that took an hour or more to prepare. Would it be more convenient to eat at home? If fast, ready to eat food did not exist would you make any changes to your schedule? Would you cut out a few activities that right now seem essential, or would you put more effort into preparing for the week?

Of course, fast food is here to stay and, likely, so is the busy lifestyle that most people have adopted. It is not easy to work all day, pick kids up from school or day care or sports and arrive home to a whole new set of chores and demands. If there is an evening every week where you work late, the kids have activities, or you have plans of your own, how do you prepare for this?

Beat the temptation to order in by cooking double batches and freezing portions for busy evenings. Thaw your supper while you are out, then reheat it when you arrive. But your kids are starving animals after sports? Let them eat some of their daily recommended servings of fruit and vegetables (which you prepared yourself, earlier) while they wait. Better yet, distract them with a few chores while supper cooks.

But what to make?

Mixing up a few pounds of hamburger does not take long and can yield several meals: freeze meatloaf and meat balls for later and BBQ some homemade hamburgers for a treat. While you are doing that you could also brown some hamburger to use in chili, lasagna, shepherd’s pie or other casseroles.

But meat is expensive, you say? Yes, it is. But if your back up plan to feed your family when you are tired is hitting the drive thru, you have probably become accustomed to spending around $40 per meal for a family of four. That $40 could feed your family home cooked meals for several days if you are organized and plan ahead. Saving $20-30 on a meal is like putting in more time at work—except that you can “earn” yourself that money from the comfort of home.

Fast meals like bacon and eggs, beans and toast or soup and sandwiches are no less healthy than drive thru. If you would rather some vegetarian options, or if going meatless is something you are interested in trying, there have never been more recipe ideas online. Start looking!

There must be a healthier way

If someone told you they could feed your family healthier food for a fraction of the cost, would you be interested? If they said that a time commitment of a couple hours per week would make you healthier, save money and possibly bring you closer as a family, could you find the time? Cooking at home is not necessarily a family activity but you can involve the kids by having them chop or wash veggies, set and clear the table, or even help with the cooking if they are old enough. When all members of a family are going in different directions it can be hard to connect with each other. Committing to eating together at a table as often as possible is good for your relationships as well as your budget.

It’s not a step back in time

It is no one particular member of the family’s responsibility to prepare the food. If you can eat you need to learn to feed yourself. If you are a parent and have your kids in activities to strengthen their bodies and people skills, consider this another opportunity for their growth. Teach them the difference in value (both nutritional and monetary) between a fast food meal and one you prepare and eat together. If you seriously do not have the time, ever, to prepare food for the work week it may be time to re-examine your schedule and priorities. There may be times you need a fast meal on the go, but hopefully you can find a way to slow down and eat at home more often. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Weekly Column: Does the Internet Cost You Money?

Does the Internet make you spend more?

The Internet has become a part of everyday life—it has streamlined the sending and receiving of information and enabled people to conduct most of their business without ever leaving their home or office. While that may be convenient and, in many ways, save us time and money, we are also becoming conditioned to want what we want right now. There has also never been so much to choose from. Whether we realize it or not, our Internet habits expose us to blatant and subliminal advertising almost continually, every day.

How do you use social media?

You might use your Facebook account primarily to keep in touch with friends and family, and you may be satisfied with the amount of time you spend there. But did you know that many people admit to checking Facebook on their phones everyday before they get out of bed? Even if you only seek updates from friends and family, you are still exposed to their possessions, activities and lifestyles. For those who tend to splurge on things they see online, this is a continuous stream of temptation everyday. That is hard for even the most frugal to resist.

Promoting your personal brand

More and more, people associate their personality and identity with the image they project online. Sites like Pinterest allow the user to create boards that display their interests and tastes. You may learn a lot about hobbies, skills and personal development but have you noticed that these types of social networks are becoming more and more laden with sponsored pins? And that most of the content is posted by bloggers and companies that direct you back to their site where you can become a subscriber (and thus subject to the advertising embedded there) or, better yet, a consumer of whatever they are selling? Companies are counting on you to “save” or “like” their pins which, in turn, promotes their product to more and more people on the site. While you scroll through those pictures of beautiful home décor and DIY projects, you are actually browsing through one advertisement after another. Although you may not immediately buy what you find on sites like Pinterest, it puts an image of what you want in your mind and may contribute to an overall sense of needing and wanting new things to make you happy.

Following trends is costly

Do you follow celebrities on Twitter? Do you feel the need to update your wardrobe/home décor/vehicle/garden as quickly as you can find the Next Big Thing online? Staying on top of current fads is a costly venture if a person has had a reduced income for some time. The more a person exposes themselves to consumer culture and opportunities to shop, the harder it will be to resist making non-essential purchases. You may have stopped going on shopping trips to the city but if you are still overspending online, or shopping for what you see on social media, your budget is no better off for your efforts.

To each their own

If you can handle looking at new gadgets and pretty things online without buying them and you enjoy the experience, have at it. But if your internet habits leave you feeling dissatisfied with what you have, perhaps it is time to question why that is. Perhaps it is time for a digital diet. Disable notifications, unsubscribe from flyers and newsletters or, better yet, take some time away from your social networks and see if you feel more contented with what you have. Fill those hours you spent online with something that brings you pleasure but doesn’t cost money.

Use the Internet wisely

You might argue that there are many ways your apps and social media save you money, and you may be right. Used properly, store apps, online classifieds and garage sale groups and the like can save you time and dollars. But if you are spending beyond your budget, you should question your impulse to buy no matter what it is that you shop for. No matter how affordable something is it isn’t a good deal unless you actually need it.  

Social media has transformed our lives for better or worse. People update their status throughout the day to let their acquaintances know every minute detail of their lives. We see inside the homes and vacations of people we barely know. This can lead to comparisons, feelings of inadequacy and the desire to keep up with the neighbours. The control of those emotions lies in the hands, or mouse, of the beholder. If your Internet habits cost you money and steal your joy, log off or take a break. Remove some apps from your phone. You will be surprised to see that world keeps spinning without them.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Weekly Column: Volunteering is Cheaper Than Therapy

Volunteering: it’s cheaper than therapy

When people sit down to consider how they can cut back on their spending it is usually obvious that shopping trips, vacations, new toys for the kids (and the parents) need to be cut back. Perhaps rather than a warm winter vacation you are seeing the local sights this year. Maybe you are making do in a tent although you have had your eye on a new camper. Maybe you have even given up some of your more expensive pastimes and sold some of your extra things to generate a bit more money. You’re doing what you have to do to get by, but is a constant sense of austerity truly sustainable?

Most people would admit they get a rush from spending money--if not the actual act of spending it, then from the new, exciting things they have just purchased. Whether it is a new truck on display in the driveway or some new clothes hanging in the closet, it is natural to feel happy and proud of what you have worked to buy yourself. The trouble is, the new wears off and you are left looking for that happy, positive feeling and may not know how to find it without spending more money. It can become a vicious cycle that spirals into debt, guilt, anxiety and stress. So how do you get off the spending treadmill?

It's not the spending that makes you feel good

 Having new things might impress the neighbours and will definitely look good on your Facebook page, but if you have cut back your lifestyle you may be left feeling like you make sacrifice after sacrifice with no relief. But this is simply not the truth. Rather than searching outwardly for material things that make you feel inspired and rewarded, perhaps it is time to look within for something that gives you satisfaction and joy that money cannot buy.

In stressful times, there is nothing worse than feeling isolated and alone in your struggles. But one needn’t look far in today’s world to see others in a far worse situation. Becoming a volunteer is a way to get to know like-minded people and feel a part of the community. There are a number of ways to get involved that needn’t cost you much money. If you have time to spare maybe filling it with a volunteer position would help fight the urge to spend money and replace the rush you get from new things with one that is free, long-lasting and maintainable.

So many ways to help

What are your interests outside of work? Are you good at organizing? Have you always wanted to teach? Are you an avid outdoorsman or woman? Are you handy with a hammer? Explore how your interests can lead you to an organization that needs your talents. Whether it is Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Ducks Unlimited, The SPCA, The United Way, Special Olympics, tutoring literacy or English as a second language—the list of volunteer opportunities in the area goes on and on. Most organizations require a police record check and some paper work but the process is worth it. 

Understandably, donations from big oil companies are lagging this year so many groups are getting creative to fund the projects in their communities. Although money might be tight there is no reason why community spirit should be in short supply. There is a good chance that getting involved in a cause that you believe in will benefit you as much as it benefits those you are setting out to help.

Do what works for you

Volunteering needn’t be organized and your commitment can be as much or as little as suits you. Finding a meaningful pastime that doesn’t cost you money can be as simple as visiting at a retirement home, checking in on an elderly or house-bound neighbour, or babysitting for a busy family. Feeling like you have stepped in to help someone who needed it will give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of spending can imitate.

From consumerism to volunteerism

Creating a frugal lifestyle is much the same as a diet: you are no further ahead if cutting back for awhile results in a binge of spending and so-called rewards for your efforts. Just like with food, you need to replace your old habits with new, healthy ones. Having new things can be exciting and make everyone happy, at least in the short term. But rather than looking to consumerism to give your life joy and meaning, maybe it’s time to take the focus off ourselves and see how much better we feel when we are part of a larger, community-minded group. Ask around and check out local websites to find the opportunity that works for you.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Weekly Column: Foraging and Perennial Food

Foraging and Perennial Food

One aspect of budgeting that people might not consider is how much they spend entertaining themselves during their free time. Although having frugal pastimes might not appear to save a lot of money, the savings multiplies when this pastime replaces one that was more expensive.

Consider this: a weekend off, the kids are bored…shall you take them to a movie and spend roughly $50 on tickets and treats? Or how about going for a drive and picking berries, stopping for a picnic and a swim at a lake somewhere along the way? Now you have gone from a costly, sedentary day spent in air-conditioning to a day of fresh air and exercise with quality family time and healthy, free food thrown in for good measure. You have not only replaced the $50 movie experience but probably saved yourself a few bucks on berries when you next get groceries.

Of course, if one is to go berry picking you must know what you are looking for, and where to go. Perhaps you have a neighbour or friend that can give directions or tag along for the day. Sites such as are great for identifying edible plants, berries and mushrooms by province. Beware foraging for mushrooms—it is advised to only gather mushrooms with an experienced guide as many varieties look similar and some are deadly poisonous.

Be safe and courteous

Please don’t forget that when you pull off the road to pick berries in the ditch, you may be near someone’s home. You would probably frown on a stranger stopping to pick the fruit off the trees in your yard. Take only what you will actually use and leave some for the next family. Remember that someone owns the land, whether crop or pasture, and be respectful. Whatever wrappers and trash you bring with you should be taken home and disposed of properly. And lastly, don’t forget that out in the country we share our terrain with bears and other wild animals. Keep an eye on the kids and remember, bears like saskatoons too!

Perennial food

Even if you aren’t interested in being a full time gardener, you might consider adding some perennials (plants that come back year after year) to your yard that can provide some early spring nutrition for your family. When you consider the cost of treats like asparagus, strawberries and raspberries at the grocery store it makes growing your own a lot more appealing. There are even grapevines that can overwinter here! With a little mulch and compost, an area dedicated to perennial food can offer your family great health benefits for many years to come.

Most people are aware that berries such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries (all of which are hardy in this gardening zone) are extremely nutritious. But don’t forget rhubarb, commonly found in farmyards around the area. Rhubarb is said to aid in weight loss, improve digestion, stimulate bone growth, and increase circulation, among many other health benefits ( If that makes you want to rush out and buy a rhubarb plant, ask around. It is much cheaper to dig up a portion of someone’s existing plant. If you are unfamiliar with rhubarb, try substituting rhubarb mixed with strawberries or other fruit in many of your favorite dessert recipes such as apple crisp.

Fruit trees

More and more varieties of fruit trees are available that can survive and bear fruit in our climate. Although it might seem like a long time to wait, planting a fruit tree or two is very rewarding when you are finally able to walk into your own back yard and enjoy the fruit that you’ve grown yourself. Whether it is apples, pears, cherries or plums, you can find the right tree at a local greenhouse along with more information on how to care for it. Be sure to ask if two trees are needed for pollination.

Preserve your harvest

If you are successful at berry picking and growing some perennial food, you will quickly find yourself with a surplus of perishables that can be frozen, dried, pickled or made into jams, jellies, desserts or canned to be enjoyed later. Learning to preserve and bake are new hobbies that will also save you money down the road.

It is a fact that many families are cutting back on their spending. Including foraged or homegrown food in your diet is a simple change that can benefit your family in many ways beyond saving money. Being busy outdoors, spending time together instead of money, is a great way to spend lazy summer days. When you substitute frugal hobbies and pastimes for costlier ones, you are learning new things while also reducing your spending. Putting great food on the table has never sounded better or more affordable. 

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Weekly Column: Waste Not, Want Not

Waste Not, Want Not: Reducing Your Kitchen Waste

Everyone knows the cost of food is continually rising, to the point that nutritious food is unaffordable for many families. Given the cost, it is very disappointing to find that your dairy and produce have spoiled before you have a chance to eat it. Luckily, there are many ways to ensure the food you have worked hard to purchase gets eaten rather than wasted.

                Use a menu-plan

A menu-plan can be as simple as jotting down the meals you expect to have on certain days each week—it needn’t take long to write and does not have to be strictly adhered to. The idea is that you plan your meals according to what you have on hand and foresee busy days where you might be short on time. A menu-plan allows you to prepare some food ahead because you have tomorrow’s meals anticipated, and also reminds you to use up what you have available. Take stock of what needs used and plan your meals accordingly to get the most out of your kitchen budget.

                Freeze it before it spoils

Did you know that you can freeze milk and thaw it (slowly) when needed? A 4 litre jug is usually the most economically priced, but if it is too much for your family consider freezing the excess in freezer-safe containers to save money. The same goes for meat trimmings, bones and vegetable scraps. Freeze gravy drippings and roast remnants for a quick meal of soup, and keep a bag in your freezer for onion, carrot and potato peels, celery ends and other vegetables that can boiled into broth then discarded. It may take some organization on your part, but you will appreciate having a meal or two per week that is essentially free. If you are travelling, freeze what you have to avoid coming home to a rank fridge and wasted food. 

                Uses for sour milk

If you find that your milk has begun to sour, you might consider using it in buns, bread or cake rather than tossing it out. Lightly soured milk creates a leavening effect and results in fluffier baking—the heat of the oven takes care of any bacteria that might exist. Please note, however, that milk that has soured in the fridge is safe to use but it is not recommended to use milk that has been left in the sun or that has spoiled to the point of chunkiness. If you find yourself with whipping cream that needs used up, you might consider making your own butter. All that you need is a mixer and some time—a simple google search will find you numerous recipes. A litre of whipping cream should give you almost a pound of butter with the added bonus of a cup or two of buttermilk that can be substituted for milk in almost any recipe. How is that for making great use of something that might otherwise have been thrown out? Get the kids involved and talk about reducing waste in your home.

                Start to compost

Sending yard and food scraps to the landfill creates methane and wastes what could be turned into valuable compost. 

While some cities can accept household waste that you cannot compost yourself (meat and dairy, pet waste and cat litter should NOT be deposited in your backyard composter because your compost will not reach a sufficient heat to kill all pathogens), you might still consider building or buying a composter in which to create your own nutrient rich compost from yard and vegetable scraps. Ask around and see if friends or neighbours have composting worms. Vermicomposting is becoming more common in schools and is a great way to get the kids excited about science, composting and gardening.

Reducing what gets wasted and discarded is a huge part of reducing one’s budget. If you are struggling to keep healthy food on the table, it has never been more important to get every penny out of your purchased or homegrown food. By planning and making an effort, you can divert your groceries from going from the store to the fridge to the landfill. You might find that you spend less and eat better.