Wednesday, 23 December 2015

One Fine Day

I seem to have fallen silent in this space lately. I've been sewing, solo parenting until the last week, and otherwise occupied although my thoughts are often on things I'd like to write about. But the opportunities are fleeting and here I am, on the 23rd of December with just a moment to pop in and wish you all the best this holiday season. 

We had friends in for pizza, wings and drinks last night and reconnected in a way that we haven't in years. Today a morning of coffee with friends turned into a day of friends and family coming and going, reluctant to leave this warm place, kids sliding on the hill, snacks and laughter and friendships remembered.  Never have I been more convinced that our authentic life will bring us peace and joy. When good people gather and are sorry to leave you know you are doing something right. Wherever you are, whatever your lot in life, I wish you contentment. No one knows what the future will bring. But if you are safe and warm and content you are doing well indeed. In case I don't make it back before Christmas Day, I wish you peace,contentment, friendship and good health in the coming year. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Power of 10

This morning as I tidied my kitchen I thought, as I have many times before "good enough". And I almost left things and moved on to the next task on my list. But lately I'm really thinking about how much I can accomplish in 10 minutes. I can haul my day's worth of wood into my house and sweep up the trail into the basement. I can make all the beds, clean the toilets and pop in a load of laundry. I can fold a load of laundry and actually put it away. I can even write a brief blog post. 

My kitchen as I might have left it:

My kitchen as I did leave it, 5 minutes and 53 seconds later:

I did not sweep the floor or do the dishes. I merely put some clutter in its place and the effect on my mood throughout the day can not be described. Tidying up so that things look "done" or, if not done then at least "better," makes me feel happier and more efficient. Why not?

Monday, 30 November 2015

Sex-Ed in The Barnyard

On the farm kids grow up witnessing animals going about their business in just about every conceivable way. So much so, in fact, that we usually didn't pay much attention to, say, a bull breeding a cow right before our eyes. But when we hired a ram to service our 4 ewes I knew that there would be questions. My kids have not been around the cattle as much and this summer when I started talking about having baby lambs my 5 year old (J) asked " but mommy how does the baby get in her tummy?". A question I sort of dreaded, to which I replied "well the daddy just kind of jumps on her" SIGH. Not my best work but as much as I'd rehearsed for that moment I still drew a blank. "That's horrifinding!" (My son's description of everything unfavourable). Not much more has been said on the subject, that is, until today. 

Enter Prince Charming. 

When our ram arrived (kindly delivered by my brother from the neighbour's), the 3 year old (O) had fallen asleep on my sewing room floor so J and I quickly hustled out to meet our new guest. It took only a minute to turn him in with the ewes and my brother left--by now I can hear that O is awake and wants to come out. I left for two minutes, three tops, only to return to a crying child and one quite thoroughly bred sheep. 

In hindsight, I might have known the courtship may go quickly, but it didn't occur to me that it would happen while I walked to the house. And I hadn't bargained on it upsetting my boy so much. My poor little soft-hearted goose worried that his ewe that he bottle fed with his gramma was being "bullied and stomped by that big mean ram". It was at once the most hilarious and tender moment with my child. Am I a beast for wanting to roll around laughing at the awkwardness of the situation? Likely, and I apologize for it I don't mean to be offensive. At the same time I felt a lump in my throat for his simple love for his animals. A farmer's love. He wants to see them cared for and never come to harm, and I was extremely proud. I tried to be matter of fact in stating that it doesn't hurt her or she would walk away from the ram, and it's the way that we get our baby lambs in spring. I had an eloquent speech up my sleeve about how all things are born from a seed....I'm sure I would have messed it up....but thank goodness he seemed content to know that it's not hurting her and that the ram will not be staying long. Seriously, I am hoping that these barnyard scenes become less traumatic for us both! Now that's country living :)

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Mission Accomplished

Our annual craft sale has come and gone and I am left with a feeling of "where did the last month go?"

It was a much better turn out this year; in fact it got so busy that people couldn't get through to our booth. In the end I made about the exact same amount as I did last year but for some reason felt disappointed. So tonight I am reminding myself that although I had hoped to make more money, I did accomplish several things:

• I learned how to bind a quilt and managed to bind 3 by hand (1 throw size and 2 baby)
• a lady offered to buy the throw sized quilt, which I had on display (I had already given it to my friend whose mom had passed away)
• the first set of pallet board signs sold out (I made a second set of 5 at the last minute so have some inventory for next year)

I did not have a craft table thinking that it would make me rich :) a friend and I enjoy doing crafts and the busy work helps us get over the hump of the seasonal change. We had a great visit and I was overjoyed to see old friends come out to support a local event. My kids got their picture with Santa and I believe they will remember forever the suspenseful few moments while Santa searched for their names on the naughty/nice list!

The afternoon portion of the craft sale slowed down and I didn't make the profit that initially seemed possible. But all of my other goals were met. I learned how to do the binding on my quilts and was offered a fair price for one although I could not accept. I was commissioned by a friend (and paid in advance) to sew a baby quilt, and I've already got it started. 

I used some power tools while Husband is away working and reminded myself that I am more capable than I believe. I used to be so independent but having small kids and someone to ask has made me soft. All in all, I had a day out and some great social time and felt very supported by people that matter. That in itself is an accomplishment :)

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Busy Days

For anyone holding down a real job, it might seem crazy to put hours of time and energy into making crafts to sell for mere dollars at a sale. I like to create things and my kids are independent enough now that I can spend a bit of time sewing while they play or colour. Most of it, though, I do at night. I had a very productive few days and I hope to sell at least half of what I've made. The weather is supposed to be better this year (last year it was cold with a wicked wind). 

I'm feeling a bit tired of it all, really, but I have enjoyed the sense of urgency (briefly). Now I'd like to go back to sewing because I want to :) How is your weekend shaping up?

Monday, 2 November 2015


Isn't it funny how quiet and still a snowy morning can be?

 This quiet, the expectant silence waiting for the sleep that winter will bring...this I seek in my heart and mind. For the first time in perhaps ever, at least since I was a child, I look forward to the methodical pace of winter. Wood hauled in, ashes hauled out. Plow snow, shovel snow. Play in snow. Sleigh ride. Hunker down. Rest. Sew. Read. Snuggle my boys and savour savour this precious window in their childhood. For if there is one age I remember, and one season, it is the excitement of snow and decorating cookies and making cinnamon buns and waiting for the bus to drop off my brothers so we could eat our homemade treats that we had made for them. And I do remember the quiet. I played with my not-a-barbie doll in a cardboard box that I had made into a doll house and the dramas of her glamorous life were acted out in my mind where only I could hear. That Christmas Santa delivered a doll house, a real house, for my not-a-barbie and I don't believe there's been a gift so special since. The wall paper in her bathroom matched the wall paper in ours, her bedroom carpet the white plush shag of our discarded bathroom mat. She was like a movie star.

There are no more jobs calling me outside. Every year my interest in the garden wanes before I have completed all my jobs and now there is snow on the ground and I can give myself permission to focus my attention indoors. Rooms that need cleaned top to bottom and things that need sorted and tidied and oh so many things to sew. 

Quiet. The quiet pace of our lives slows still more for this season. But my boys will continue to grow. I will tire of the repetition of my daily routine by February and I will drag myself to spring with gritted teeth and big plans for the yard. This I know. This year I enter winter without dreading the length and severity of it. I know that we will make it through. We will be productive, in our way, and we will greet spring with the joy that we now welcome winter. I am ready. Bring it.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

2015 Tally of Preserves

It has long been my goal to keep better records of what I grow (always too busy planting to keep track of what gets planted) and what I harvest (weighing what I bring in from the garden sounds simple until I am rushing out to pick greens and supper is late, blah, blah, blah). Maybe next year I will be more organized and keep a better record, but for this year I have concentrated on an overall tally of what I was able to preserve through canning and freezing.

I thought that I would include this spring's maple syrup, our first ever. Because it was a novelty to most of our friends we gave away several tiny taste-test size jars and had a couple of half-pints for the kids to have on pancakes and for me to use in bread. I saved 2 quarts in hopes that the weather will cooperate and we can do maple taffy in the snow at each of our son's birthday parties (January and March). Last year we had tobogganing and horse-drawn sleigh rides for both and the weather was nice. I hope we are as lucky this year :)

I was lucky to be invited to pick fruit with a friend in a lovely yard this summer. There we picked enough plums for good eating plus a bit of plum sauce (seriously, removing the pits was so time-consuming!).

My boys enjoyed pitting cherries, though, and were a great help. The wild saskatoons were wonderful this year and we discovered just how many grow right here in our yard.

My garden was a dismal failure by some standards. We had a drought until July and the scorching heat and my inconsistent watering did not enable much that I planted to germinate. Some things came later and I was surprised how much lettuce I ended up with. Pumpkins continued to bloom until frost without ever producing fruit larger than a golf ball--terribly disappointing because I successfully started the plants from seed! If anyone has pointers on growing pumpkins I would appreciate some advice!

Like most years, though, what my garden lacked was supplemented by the generosity of my mom and neighbours. A friend's mom gave me half a box of apples which I split with my mom and made apple pie filling with. I was given cucumbers and still managed to make enough pickles for our winter eating. My aunt gave us carrots and I saved enough to make a treat jar of pickled carrots for Husband to enjoy over the Christmas holidays. In many ways the scarcity of the pickles makes us savour them more and it is always a shame to throw out uneaten ones when you have gone to so much work.
Every year I plan to grow more tomatoes and more peppers for even more salsa, but like the pickles it is a shame to see it go to waste. So this year I have concentrated more on slow roasting and freezing for sauce and know that the salsa I have made for ourselves and as gifts will be all the more special because there is less of it.

So here it is, a tally of what I have "put up" from my garden, yard, and generous gifts from others:

2015 Preserves

2 qt saskatoon pie filling
2 x ziploc freezer bag of berries
2 qt rhubarb/saskatoon "fruit" for our elderly neighbour
3 qt cherries "fruit"
3 qt cherry pie filling
2 qt apple pie filling

2 pints pickled beets
1 quart dilly beans
5 pints hot chili chutney
3 1/2 pints raspberry jam
3 pints million dollar relish
5 1/2 quarts bread and butter pickles
2 qt + 1 pint sweet heat salsa plus 7 half pints of sweet heat salsa for gifts
4 qt hot salsa
6 qt canned whole tomatoes
1 qt dilled carrots
2 qt dill pickles
5 ziploc freezer bags of roasted tomatoes (so far). Tomatoes still ripening in the basement

1 laundry basket of potatoes minus what we ate fresh from the garden. Red potatoes were scabby but large, white potatoes were excellent.

Perhaps most exciting in this year's food production were the two apples that our 2 year old honeycrisp apple tree produced. The fruit was huge, crisp and juicy, and although there were only two apples we watched them grow and shared them as a family. We are very hopeful that the tree will provide us with plenty of beautiful apples in years to come.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Some Months are Just Like That...

SIGH. My 3 year old has a cough and it's been keeping us both up at night. I feel tired and dare I say a little grumpy! It's funny how the best laid plans, gone unfulfilled, can later trip me up and make things harder to see, my budget plan for October didn't make it past "go" and I have felt like it is impossible to post about budgets and frugality when I am having such a hard time living it. I feel a real responsibility to be accountable for what I say in my blog. If I say I am going to reduce grocery spending then it is on my mind all the time. If groceries come in higher than the budget it is not the end of the world but I do feel a tremendous amount of anxiety that I am not fulfilling the goals that I have laid out here in this space (even though they are really only for my own motivation). As a result I have avoided the subject, ceased to blog, and feel like a frugal failure. I have decided to list what "went wrong" this month and some ideas to try for November (tomorrow already!?)

  • I was all set to get groceries using cash, according to My Plan. I had withdrawn $700 for the month, which was to include dog and cat food and some items for a winter stockpile of food. First trip out I got extra flour and coffee, both at reduced prices but bringing my grocery total to higher than I intended. The real strike-out, though, was forgetting to pay in cash and using the MasterCard out of habit. Same things week number 2! Apparently, old habits are hard to break...
  • So now I am packing around a wad of cash, which I can't seem to remember to spend. But Husband, oh Husband the MasterCard is going up and the cash is going down, do you see where this story is headed?
  • Husband's family is in Newfoundland, all the way across this big country. We send our Christmas packages with a truck-driving friend who happened through town this month. Enter Christmas shopping, and an educational toy party, and now you have some extra spending that was bound to happen sometime but certainly adds to my sense of failure. 
  • Did I mention that we got a barn?
I suppose in the interest of a balanced argument I could add that by spending too much on groceries one week I received our Halloween candy as the free gift (we live on a secluded road and never get trick-or-treaters so where do you think that chocolate is going to end up?). The other free gift that I received was a lovely 7 piece appetizer serving set which will be donated as part of my gift to a woman and her children fleeing family violence. Every year I do up Christmas gifts for a family at the women's shelter. I found one of our Halloween costumes at the thrift store that supports the same shelter. It was $6 rather than $30-40 had I purchased it new. It ended up being too short for my rather tall 3 year old, so my mom added a "belt" of extra material to the waistline of the costume from material she had on hand. Frugal and fantastic? Aye! The 5 year old didn't seem concerned about having a costume for his kindergarten party so I didn't either, but as it approached I remembered last year's paper-hand-drawn-batman symbol scotch taped to a black t-shirt and I began to worry that I would look like the uncaring mother that didn't bother to try....this school gig is mostly about keeping up appearances in so many ways, and I am surprised when I get sucked in. As much as I would like to dress my kids in things we have around the house it seems that store bought is the trend, and I gladly accepted a friend's offer to lend us a power rangers outfit that her kids weren't using. I fashioned a mask from a Superman mask and cape that we had and voila, Halloween for less than $10!

Husband does the pumpkin carving 'round these parts. Not bad, eh? 

October used to be a month that I counted on to help us get ahead...there are 5 Fridays in October which, for us, means 5 paydays. I used to sit and look at our accounts and always put the extra paycheck either into savings or against whatever payment had the highest interest. This year it felt like October brought unforeseen spending rather than extra income, but I have to admit that some months are just like that. I have most of the cash to spend on next month's groceries and I need to try harder to stick to my plan. But I realize that the pressure I've been putting on myself regarding the budget is unnecessary and not helpful at all. I don't need to go around with rocks in my stomach because things didn't go according to plan this month. I spent more on groceries than I had planned but we have extra pet food for winter and food for ourselves. I am letting it go so that I can turn a new page with a new month beginning tomorrow. Onward and upward, yo!

This picture has nothing to do with the post, but aren't my kids cute?!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

So We Got a Barn!

Today we had a very special delivery: the barn we ordered awhile ago arrived and I LOVE it!

This plan has been in the works for a couple months--initially we hadn't planned on a barn for another year or two but suddenly we were pricing out our options and the next thing I knew we ordered it! 

The cost of the pre-built, delivered barn was not much more than the cost of the materials had we opted to buy a package and build it ourselves. Husband and I don't have much building experience so we missed out on a chance to learn a great deal. But building it ourselves would mean he would have to take unpaid time off work. Whatever we saved on the cost of having it built would have been lost. So we ordered it from the same Hutterite colony that built our shed, and I couldn't be happier :)

My mom and dad came and helped us frame up the footing and two of my brothers were here when the concrete was poured. It feels good to know that help is nearby when we need it. We have a few more things to do to get it ready for our four sheep to spend the winter in, and there are still a few jobs left in the yard. It was a beautiful day today and I do so love looking at my little red barn out my kitchen window. I know that having the barn (although it wasn't imperative that we get one this year) is another step towards the lifestyle I want for my kids. I'd like them to grow up with some chores, some animals to tend to, some responsibility. In the meantime I feel a great enthusiasm to start making a bit of money to help pay for it. More on those plans soon! 

Did you do anything exciting this weekend?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Carving Out the Time

Lately I am realizing that living a simple life takes time. All my priorities take time and patience; they require the attention span to see things through to the end. I confess, sometimes I flounder from one task to the next, and I've even wondered if it wouldn't be more "simple" to bring home that take-out meal, hire out some yard work, buy it rather than grow it, and for heaven's sake stop the laborious pastimes of preserving and making do.

If only it were so easy. When I bake my own bread I prefer to start in the morning and then work the raising/baking into the flow of other tasks during the day. On a really productive day we can be working outdoors while there are still things being accomplished inside, like bread raising or laundry washing. Yes it would be easier to dry clothes in the dryer when hanging them outdoors requires lugging them down a flight of stairs, but if I don't show my kids that it can be done they might grow up believing that it can't be done. And I don't like the thought of an entire generation of people that has never tasted home baked goods or worn crinkly drawers, I just don't.

Despite my best efforts today I got my buns started at 3:30 only to realize that we are invited to the farm for supper and waiting for the buns will make us late. Oh well, we will be late and bring buns. I have begun my (second) annual flurry of Christmas crafts to sell mid-November at a small local sale. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment but the disaster of felt and thread and beads and do-dads in my living room is making me a bit OCD right now. I really must get some sense of order restored. But, you see, it all takes time.

I could get my decorations at Walmart possibly for less than it costs me to make them, once I factor in my time. But I like the idea of a handmade item. Every year I buy some pottery from a local artist. She prices her things very reasonably and I now have 4 of her pieces--I like the idea of a neighbour or local person looking upon their Christmas tree to see a variety of the things I have built over the years. Every year I give some away and it brings me joy to see my work in the homes of my loved ones. It takes time, but it is worth the time.

I feel rushed right now. I no sooner complete a task than another rears its head or, worse, I must complete a task or two to even begin the job that needs the most attention. It's the impending threat of a snowfall that is here to stay...things need done outside but the house is driving me into my hibernation/mission of downsizing and decluttering. These walls need washed, the floors, the windows, the shelves have collected strange assortments of toys and sunglasses and things that just don't belong. More tomatoes are ready and I've been given some overripe apples--blessings, they are, I am so grateful to have plenty of food, but on I rush. It's making me feel pulled in every direction.

There is nothing like walking in the door from a playdate and having a child vomit in the porch to help one really prioritize the jobs for the day. Suddenly it is okay to concentrate on laundry and organizing the crafts and subduing the dust bunnies. There is nothing wrong with getting some indoor jobs done while a little boy rests on the couch. We can even work in some stories and a quiet game, and the world will keep on spinning. There is only so much time in a day but I have been reminded that the two reasons I live my simple life the way that I do--baking, gardening, building and reusing and making do--those two reasons sometimes need me to settle for just being mommy and leaving all the other job titles for tomorrow.

I've been wanting to do a mid-month update on some budgeting stuff and I need to figure out how to do the GST for Husband's company (EGADS! Me and numbers, it's just such a dreadful combination) in a way it adds to the sense that I will never be caught up and I will never have the time to do the things that I want. But I must carve out some time. I've whittled away at the number of blogs I read--even realizing one that I followed for years was actually bringing me down. It's important to reevaluate and really spend your time as though it was your money. Quality over quantity. With that, my boys await. I leave you with some birds and stars--I hope you are enjoying your weekend!
perhaps some day I'll figure out how to rotate these pictures. But not today; I haven't the time!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Tears for Angels

A tragic day in western Canada. 3 children were killed in a farming accident in central Alberta--every parent and farmer's worst nightmare. It is hard to know what to say in moments like these, other than to let tears roll and send thoughts of comfort to an unknown family so torn apart in grief, so far away, yet so much our very own neighbours.

Growing up on a farm is wonderful for children but it is not without its dangers. For all of us who remember playing around equipment or who have kids that do or who simply can imagine this anguish, today our thoughts are with them and all others who have lost a child. There is just nothing more tragic. I know the soft heart of the farmer and I know there are none left harvesting or hauling bales or cattle today that haven't shed a tear for these little angels gone too soon. May the family and community find their way through this loss. I leave you with some KD Lang, an Alberta girl herself. Peace xo

Saturday, 3 October 2015

First Fire of the Year

It was a chilly day, misting and a cold wind. 

I lit a fire in the wood stove tonight, the first of the year. It's faster to warm up the house using the furnace but it never feels as good as toasty warm floors and...well, just being warm by the fire. 

It's supposed to warm up later in the week, but it's time for me to haul in some wood. We won't light a fire every day, but soon we will and it is time to get some wood ready for the winter. As usual, the plan to get the wood all cut in the spring/summer didn't happen. But Husband and my brothers might get a chance to cut some wood this weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving). It's becoming a bit of a family tradition. I am glad to spend time working together outside and then sitting down to a family meal. These occasions are about to become even more special as my younger brother and his wife are expecting their first child in January. I am incredibly moved by the thought of my kids having a little cousin to play with and I can't wait for them to enjoy the kind of holidays we had with our cousins. Like every other year, this year we have so much to be thankful for. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Walking the Walk

I consider myself to be a "saver". I talk about frugal living, I don't shop for myself very often and I've saved a LOT of money by using second hand baby paraphernalia and hand-me-down clothing for my kids (and myself). We often wait for things to be on sale or try to find second hand, and we buy useful, needed gifts for Christmas and birthdays. I do not buy toys for my kids unless it is birthday and Christmas, with the exception of a few summer toys for the lake this year. Although I think we are far more frugal than many of the people we know, Husband and I are realizing there is much need for improvement. One issue we have is we use our credit card in order to receive air miles and it has led to rampant use of credit. Although we ALWAYS pay off the balance I think we have become desensitized to spending. So for one month we plan to use cash and see how it goes.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My dad is a cattle farmer and I get most/all of my beef for free. This is wonderful and I'm so grateful. But it doesn't add up to me why we spend so much on food when our main protein is free.

With that in mind, I've sat down and made a list of some areas to improve upon:

For myself:
  • groceries are almost exclusively bought by me, and I cook 99% of our meals. I have extraordinary control over what comes into this house, but at times I feel I have no control at all. All in all, I want to reduce my grocery bill for our family of 4 to a consistent $700/month. I want $50 of that monthly amount to include pet food for the cats and dog, and I want a portion of that $50 to go towards creating a greater stockpile of food here (ie. flour, sugar, oats, rice, coffee etc). 
    • ACTION: next time we go to town for groceries I will withdraw $700 for groceries. I plan to do one shop per week for the fresh things we need (milk, eggs, fruit and veg) and one larger shop per month where I can take advantage of store specials to build points while I buy larger amounts and items that we have run out of (canned goods, freezer items, baking and cooking supplies)
    • MY GOAL: to become accustomed to spending less impulsively in the grocery store. To many people a $700 grocery budget for a family of 4 would be heavenly, and I realize it is an ample amount. The fact is, we are sometimes at the store 5 or 6 times a month and it is just adding up and feels out of control. I feel that if I am using cash I will be more aware of my monthly budget being used up. Once I have a sense of where the money is going I plan to steadily reduce the amount we spend on food well below this initial goal.
  • I consider it a real treat to have an evening off from cooking. When we are all in town for several hours it is so tiring and coming home to cook for everyone when I'm exhausted sometimes leads to me suggesting we grab something and bring it home. This is not the end of the world but I plan to come up with healthier and more affordable options. One of which will be bulk cooking some family favorites and freezing so that I can have things thawing and waiting for us to arrive. NOTE: it has been months since we had take out or drive thru!
  • better use of our garden
  • use the "Good Food Box" program in town to see if there is a savings (I have purchased my first box for $15 and was impressed with the amount of produce. I plan to continue ordering every second week)
  • make better use of menu plans for frugal, healthy meals
  • less kitchen waste
  • be better prepared with Husband's work lunches so that A) I am not buying pre-packaged food to send with him and B) he is not stopping at gas stations for quick lunches (not only gross but expensive!)
  • Let's face it, I spend a lot on my yard and on fabric. I fully admit I can go overboard. Like a true addict, I just really need to avoid situations where I buy more stuff. I'm done with the yard for the year. Anything else I want will be structural (a bench for by the pond) and I will ask for it for Christmas or birthday. I have projects in mind that I will be watching for salvaged materials to use (ie. outdoor oven, flagstone patio area, but will wait for the right opportunity). There won't be a need for too much spending in the spring, either, as I've built up a good base of perennials and things are starting to fill in. Any major projects now will be ones that add value to our yard and can save us money down the road (chicken house, barn etc)
    •  As far as quilting goes, I have splurged on some lovely fabrics (most of which were on sale but it really adds up!) and I am putting it out there for all the world (or the scattered reader here, anyways) that I will not, must not, shan't and can't buy any more fabric unless it is essential for the completion of a project. I love to look and if I came across some great vintage prints I might make an exception but the flagrant collecting of material must really stop. It must. I might need a sponsor.
  • Come up with ways to make some money on the side without needing childcare
  • look into having all our insurances at one office. Perhaps we can reduce some of our spending here. Insurance is by far our largest expense and although we won't go without it, I am hoping to find a way to reduce its cost. We switched home insurance providers this spring for a savings of $700+. I hope to save even more while keeping the same coverage. Edited to add: there was a mysterious monthly charge of $230/month coming out of our bank account. Unsure if it was Husband's company insurance I inquired at one office and could get no information regarding the charge. I have gone through all of our records and still didn't know what the charge was for. I called the local small town office where we used to insure (dropped them for a different small town office to save $700/yr and after much persistence I find that we were still being charged for our old insurance policy. Once I remember to fax a copy of our new policy we will be reimbursed over $1100--woot! woot!!
  • We were paying an $8/month fee on our joint bank account without my realizing we could eliminate that charge. My own personal account has a couple different charges that I need to cancel (life insurance, which I have elsewhere, and overdraft protection). It is costing me $10/ month and I just need to remember to cancel those!
  • Work on selling our camper privately.
For Husband:
  • Once in awhile it may become necessary for Husband to pack his own lunch at night. I am not instigating a battle of the sexes debate; I feel it is easier for me to make his lunch during the day while I prepare other food than have him come home after a 12 hour work day to make his own lunch when he should be seeing the kids. It is not a job that I resent, but there are days that the kids and I are out and about and it would help immensely if he made his own sandwich or packaged up his own leftovers. I used to make him individual meals that he could take and reheat in his little lunch kit warmer that plugs into his truck. I need to prepare a few for the week on Mondays again like I used to. 
  • Eliminate or greatly reduce soft drink consumption.
  • Eliminate or greatly reduce trips into gas stations for snacks and treats.
  • Only buy tools that are needed to complete a task that has been begun. No buying tools that we might need down the road or because they are a good deal. They aren't a good deal if they don't get used.
  •  Sort and put away screwdrivers/wrenches/various tools so they can be found and used readily when needed, thus reducing the need for multiple sets
  • No impulsive purchases for the children, or if something cannot be resisted it must be saved for a Christmas or birthday gift
For the Family:
  • movie theatre tickets and snacks are a real costly expense. The last time Husband went it cost $60 for him and our 2 preschool kids. $60!!! I don't go along because of the cost and the volume. We will put more emphasis on movie nights at home with homemade pizza and popcorn etc. We can probably rent a new release on our satellite dish for under $10. Still a treat but so much more affordable.
  • I reduced our satellite dish package by $30 for the summer months. We watch more Netflix than anything, but we are curling fans and I hate to lose live coverage of events through out the winter when we are in the house more. We do discuss cancelling satellite and if we decide to it would be a savings of $50+/ month.
  • no more plastic junk toys. NO MORE!!
  • better use of the library and free kids programs. We need to brainstorm some free activities that we want to do and not forget them when we have a free day together. 
  • set a Christmas budget and stick to it. We never carry a balance on our credit card but we have seen some frightening bills come in January. Christmas is one area where we could make real progress on our spending.
  • Start a fund for a family vacation.
  • Make an actual budget for kids' activities. My kids aren't in much but I tend to stick them in programs willy-nilly and don't know how much I spend in a year. Perhaps there is a way to be more conscious and get more for my dollar. Skating/hockey is a popular pastime for Canadian kids. I will let my boys choose if they wish to play. To me, the fees are enormous and I'm not sure how much the 3 year old will get out of it. The 5 year old is going to be very tired adjusting to kindergarten, so I have opted to wait for next year. 
  • My eldest son just started kindergarten and already there's been unexpected costs--he had to have headphones--$20 for the cheapest set! He has had a book sale catalogue sent home (recycled it while he wasn't looking) we sponsored $40 for the Terry Fox Run, and I sent him $5 for the hot dog sale. When he came home with no change I asked if he ate 3 hot dogs ($1.50 each). He said no, but he bought a hot dog for a little girl who didn't have any money. I thought it was sweet but I'll be sending the correct change from now on!
  • Use the refunds from recycling our bottles and cans to buy a takeout meal when we go to the bottle depot. Put any extra money into the vacation fund.
  • Pick bottles and cans from nearby ditches in the spring to contribute to our vacation fund. Good for the environment, great way for the kids and I to be outside and work together.
  • Begin using money we save in other areas to invest in GICs and try to put our money to work.
For now, the plan is to withdraw $700 for groceries/pet food/ food stockpile and see how I do this month. I realize this is actually a LOT of money when you consider our mortgage, utilities, etc are above and beyond this cost. I want us to be prepared for a situation of reduced income/unemployment or unforeseen emergencies. This is my jumping off point. I want to reduce our spending far beyond these numbers but first need to see where the money is going. At the same time, there are many areas where we do well: we have an emergency fund and I have made some investments and set up Tax Free Savings accounts for both of us. Our kids both have education plans and we actively discuss what we need to be doing. We know we are leaking money, though, and it is very important to me that we set an example for our kids and teach them about money as they grow up. As my parents told me, it doesn't grow on trees :) If we are going to talk the talk, it is time to walk the walk. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Thrifty Thursday: You Might Not Always Be "Cool"

This is my seventh "Thrifty Thursday" post. I want to stay motivated as I work on our family budget--part of that motivation is sharing what I am doing. It can be discouraging to read frugal blogs and see how people feed their families on so little money--I feel like I am trying hard and yet I don't see those results. I am sensitive to the fact that many people are frugal out of necessity and don't have the option to "not succeed" in their attempts. The last thing I want to be is patronizing. Nonetheless, I feel like we are bleeding money around here and there are some expensive things we need to save for. I know there are people who want to reduce their spending but do not know where to I am writing these posts for them and myself :) I hope you are inspired and if you can add any ideas of your own I hope you will comment below :)

Husband and I just returned from a short trip--it was with a group of friends--and I went into the trip wondering how frugality and group travel would mix. There was a time in my life where I would have overspent, you see, so that I didn't stand out as "cheap" or unable to afford. The wonderful thing about growing older is that I am so comfortable in my own skin these days; I had no problem opting out of $500 helicopter rides and outlet mall shopping trips. I explained that we have a few things we are saving for once we get home again and that we had pre-booked the one attraction we really wanted to see. After that, we took part in what we chose and did not apologize or make excuses as to why we weren't spending more money.

We set a limit on what we planned to spend and came in at 10% lower than expected. Here are a few of the things we did that saved us money:

  • we used the coupons we were given by our hotel
  • I kept a booklet of coupons in my purse and checked for coupons before we did anything. Quite often we had 2 for 1 or money off. A friend also got us a deal on an exhibit
  • we pre-booked a shuttle from airport to hotel and back at a round trip cost of $14 each, as opposed to the $25 cab ride that friends took (each way) 
  • we walked almost everywhere, sharing cab rides between the group if it was too far to walk
  • we took advantage of the offer of a free breakfast and lunch and received free tickets to an exhibit in exchange for sitting through a time share presentation
    • we were also able to get 3 friends their tickets at 50% off
  • we bought our beverages at out of the way shops and kept a cooler of ice in our room (no fridges) in order to keep the price of drinks down. A friend spent $7 on a pepsi at a popular attraction! If we were thirsty we brought our own or waited until we found water for $1
  • I avoided shopping altogether. I explained that there is nothing I am looking for and our luggage was full already. Since I am not a shopper it was not hard for me to avoid the malls although a part of me wished for a new purse!
  • I refused to pay to have my picture taken and then pay $15 or $20 to buy the picture after our tour ended. Sorry, we have lots of pictures of our trip!
  • We spent only $20 on souvenirs. 

I found the least socially-acceptable part of my frugality was my determination not to bring back toys for my kids. It can be hard for people to understand that my kids are not given "stuff" unless it is a birthday or Christmas. Even then, I try to give them useful, well made and educational things. And although much of what people bought for their kids was useful (they found great deals on school clothes, shoes and cleats) my kids are given great quality hand-me-downs for free. Shopping with people who plan to spend all day looking for deals just doesn't work for me if I am shopping for things I get for free. We found a meaningful gift for each of our sons (a small bag each of beautiful stones to add to their rock collections). We watched for something special and when we saw it, we spent the money to get them one thing each. And you know what? They were thrilled. They have taken their rocks to show gramma, they have played with them since we got home, and they will remember the significance of that one simple gift.

I realize that some of our travel companions might have considered me "strict" or "cheap" and I accept that. I feel that while there is a grain of truth in those labels I am more than anything determined--determined not to be blown off course by a desire to fit in or impress, and determined to set an example for my boys that fun and travel and experiences need not incur debt and stress and "stuff". We had a nice time. We had a couple wonderful meals that were not that pricey but made me feel truly on vacation. I came home relaxed, refreshed, ready to take on winter and, more than anything, missing my kids and wanting to be with them. We achieved everything we set out to do and did it under budget. It doesn't matter to me that I may not be "trendy" or "cool" while I did it ;) Do you find it hard to stay on budget when you travel, or can you share some tricks for saving money while away from home?

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Getting Ready

Husband and I are going on a little trip. We will only be gone a few days but I didn't want my mom to worry about covering my tomatoes if it freezes, so I picked the big ones with my little helper the other day. I roasted the ripe ones down into a sauce with some garlic, peppers and onions and froze it.

I am so sad to say that my cucumbers didn't produce this year. I have only had a handful of my own cucumbers. The first planting either froze or didn't germinate in the hot dry weather (I thought some came up but they immediately disappeared. Did they get eaten? I suspect a late frost) At any rate, my second planting was too little, too late, and I am paying for it now. Events like this really help me prioritize for next year: one of our favorite things over the holidays is to crack open some pickles from the garden when we have company. Whether it is pickled carrots, beets or, my favorite, bread and butter pickles with sausage and cheese and crackers, it is a treat that we will really miss this year. I did a couple pints of beets already (did anyone know that sheep love beets? We turned our girls out to graze the other day and they ate the beet tops AND the tops off half my beets!). Since I only managed to grow a handful of carrots despite a second planting, I will probably only do up a quart or two of dilled carrots (the carrots given to us by our neighbour and my aunt). SIGH. Once again, I am grateful that my family does not count on my gardening skills for their survival.

When we return from our little getaway I will begin my season of preserving and cleaning up the garden. Every year I vow to plant more onions and, although I did this year, I think we just ate more and thus there will be no extras leftover for winter. Our neighbour sent over a nice assortment of things from his garden and the size of his onions made me giggle--If I ever grow onions that big I will officially call myself a gardener.

At the moment I am making a half-batch of million dollar relish from Jean Pare's Company's Coming Preserves (this book is a Western Canadian favorite and one that you would probably find in most farm kitchens). The cucumbers we got from the neighbour were large for pickling and we won't get them ate before we go--a half batch is actually just right to get us through the winter and next summer's burger/hotdog season.

Excuse the glare on the cover of the book! I am never comfortable sharing someone else's recipe unless it is in such an obscure old book or handed down by family...I recommend anyone interested in preserving watch for this book and purchase it. You will get your money's worth. The recipes are no-nonsense and tested by thousands of farm women year after year. I am skeptical of some recipes found online (Pinterest!) and when it comes to preserves I think it wise to stick to reliable, published and safe recipes for you and your family.

There isn't much garden produce left to deal with before we go. I better enjoy my time to relax because I will be returning to a basement full of ripening tomatoes and the salsa making will begin!