Friday, 30 January 2015

The Ways That I Save Money

Not everyone is frugal--fast and easy is often what people need (whether by choice or necessity). Saving a buck is not everyone's priority and, if they are able to afford it, to each their own. Personally, I think of saving money as a challenge. I like to see how far I can make a dollar stretch. I am not extreme about it because we are not in a position where I need to be. But if push came to shove and we could not afford the luxuries that we allow ourselves, I am very comfortable scaling back on our budget and saving for a rainy day. We have had those rainy days before and one must always assume that they will return.

Most of the time, we could afford to spend what we want and still get by. but the truth is, I've just never been comfortable in the mindset of "having what I want, when I want it". Perhaps because I have simple, practical tastes or perhaps because I was raised very frugally, it is not my nature to ever spend without planning and thinking it through. I have written about our budget before and I do not wish to be repetitive, but here are some more recent things that I have been doing to budget our money and pay off debt.

The first thing you must do is track where every dollar is being spent. Write out what your income is. Write out all your expenses. Compare the two. I recently did this using a template that I found here. Once I knew how much is left over after payments and bills, I can build a strategy to tackle debt (in our case a mortgage and a camper payment).

Now that I can see how much money we have left every month, I am looking for ways to increase that amount--either by making more or spending less. It crosses my mind to take a part-time job but for now I choose to stay home with my boys. We recently rented out our basement bedroom to a working friend who needs a place to stay when working in the area. To me, this is free money and I've used it to fluff our emergency fund and I am now applying it directly to our highest interest payment: our camper. Are there any ways that you might be able to bring in more income?

While doing that, are there any ways to reduce your spending?

* reduce or remove all possible service charges from all bank accounts and credit cards. Reduce the number of accounts that you have--for example do you need cable if you mostly watch netflix, etc.

* automatic monthly transfer from chequing account into savings. This enables an emergency fund to grow without effort on my part. It is easy to access should we need it.

* pay off whatever you are paying the most interest on. I know that is easier said than done. If you are under-employed and unable to bring in as much as you spend, it is hard to pay off debt. It is crucial to brainstorm ideas to make more money. Can you do odd jobs? Can you rent out a room? Have you got things that you can sell? Can you trim your spending on groceries/eating out or other entertainment?
You must know how much money you make, how much you are spending, and get in control of your finances. This may mean a temporary second job, it may mean doing a job that you feel beneath you. It does not have to be forever, but the extra income may mean added security for yourself and family. That in itself is well worth the effort.

* we collect airmiles with our credit card. It only makes sense to do this if you are paying your card off in full every month. Paying interest to collect any kind of points is lunacy. We do use our airmiles to travel, but we may also use them to buy gifts in the future. It is just another way to get more out of the money we spend.

* check the reduced rack in the produce aisle. Quite often I get peppers and mushrooms at 50% off because the new produce arrived and the old had to be put on sale. Check the quality and if it looks good enough to eat in the next day or 2, why not save that money for other things you need?

* buy some extra canned goods when they are on special. For instance I never buy canned tomatoes or crushed tomatoes full price. When they are on special I buy extra.

* I buy bags of frozen peas, corn, Brussels sprouts rather than buying fresh through the winter. This supplements the fresh vegetables that I do buy, and gets us by in a pinch if I can't make it to town for groceries for some reason.

*a major area for me to improve upon is letting food go to waste. I grew up using all leftovers to make soup for lunch everyday. My kids won't eat soup and I find that I throw out food that should have been eaten. Likewise with fruit. I try to freeze berries that are about to spoil and make desserts with apples or pears that are overripe, but I need to be more diligent.

* check for in-store coupons. I shop at superstore and the bulletin board inside the door has all their current coupons. Also at the door is the weekly flyer, usually with a weekly special such as spend $250 and receive a free gift. If I'm going to be near that amount anyways, I buy extra coffee if it is on special or a few extra items (that are on special) that we will need (NOTE: I don't buy extra stuff that we don't need or can't afford just to get the free gift. I buy things that I might end up getting the following week for full price. You have to resist the temptation to spend more under the illusion that you are saving). Some of the "free gifts" from last year were saved and given away as Christmas presents, for example a flashlight and batteries set and a ladies skincare bundle. If money is tight the last thing you can do is intentionally spend extra. But I look at it as buying my coffee when it is $8/can instead of $11, in order to get the $25 value sunscreen package for free (or whatever the deal may be). 

* I signed up for the PC plus points card. In addition to the in-store coupons and weekly free items, I also get cash off my groceries. So far I think I've redeemed about $80 worth of free groceries. I plan on saving them all year and having a free grocery bill in December when we are spending extra on other things. A good way to save some money is signing up for free points programs and redeeming your savings when you need to.

* use bars of soap instead of liquid hand soap or shower gels. You can get six bars of soap for around $2.50 where I live. Most shower gel is around $7 a bottle. It's a no-brainer. 

* ditch the novelty items for your kids. At times we get the Lightening McQueen foaming hand soap, don't get me wrong. But it's also around $7/bottle and completely unnecessary. In fact, my two-year old usually pumps it straight down the drain. Likewise with the kid's mouthwash and bubble bath and the list goes on. Add up all the little extra things you buy your kids and consider putting that money on your highest bill instead, or save to take your kids on a vacation. I am steadily trying to reduce the amount of "stuff" that we bring into our home!

* I am very fortunate to be given most of the clothes that my kids wear. I spend virtually nothing on their clothes, winter clothes and boots, shoes etc. When they need something that is not coming for free I hunt the thrift stores first (super good quality items can be found in like-new or new condition for a dollar or two) and then shop the sales racks as a last resort. If you do not receive hand-me-downs, have you considered putting outgrown kids' clothing on consignment and buying second-hand to save money?

* what activities can you do for free? Rather than taking our kids out to movies we tape them on our PVR and plan a pizza and movie night at home. We use the library for crafts and story time, and as often as we can we pack our own drinks and snacks. I cook from scratch and do most of our own baking, both to control our salt and keep the cost down. 

* Likewise, I bake our birthday cupcakes and make a home-cooked meal to celebrate our getting older. I know that outings might be unavoidable once my kids are older but, while they are small, their birthdays are simple and don't cost much more than a regular day. I've heard of people renting facilities to host the birthday party of a child, sometimes for $80 or more, and for now I consider myself lucky to avoid those extra costs.

* tooth whitening paste is more expensive and, in our case, makes our teeth super-sensitive to hot and cold. We use the 99 cent stuff. If you are of the persuasion to use health store brands, you might consider making your own or trying coconut oil as a frugal option. 

Lastly, I think that to be successful at changing your lifestyle and adopting more frugal habits it is a good idea to make it part of your language. I enjoy reading frugal blogs. A couple that I highly recommend are Notes From The Frugal Trenches and Mortgage Free in Three. Another helpful site is Gail Vaz-Oxlade Debt-Free Forever. Do you have close friends that know what you are trying to achieve? If so, have you discussed your ideas and made the necessary adaptations to your routine? Don't expect rapid results if you refuse to let go of your beer and wing ritual on Friday nights. Decide what you are willing to sacrifice and what you feel you must retain, then record your monthly results. In February I plan to begin posting my monthly grocery spending on this blog. I estimate that my family of 2 adults and 2 children spends approximately $800/month on groceries, not including the very rare meal out. I hope to shave that number by 10% to start, and see how much I can further trim it as the year progresses. Please join me in the comments if you would like to reduce your spending or if you have any suggestions to add. 

These are some ideas I have on how to reduce what is spent every month. I won't always be around to guide my children through hard times. I'm trying to teach them now the difference between "want" and "need" so that, if they encounter hard times, they are equipped to survive and thrive no matter the economy. 

This post is just one person's point of view on how to reduce spending in an age where shopping is a pastime and collecting "stuff" is a way of life. If you are looking to make a change and reduce your spending, I hope these thoughts will help. Have you got any money saving strategies to share?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Let us Remember

Give us strength today to support a family saying goodbye to a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, and above all a friend. Taken too soon, with much left undone, you will be remembered for all the laughter, the energy, the driving force of your personality. Let us all take away something from this loss. Life is too short. Today may be the only chance we have to make a difference, say we are sorry, give thanks or lend a hand to someone who needs it. Let's remember that our days are few. Let's remember. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Some Blogging Goals and Thoughts for 2015

I feel more able to accomplish tasks than I have felt in a long time. Perhaps because my kids are more independent, but also because I am living an authentic life. I have an idea of how I want to raise my kids, some clear goals for the coming year, and a renewed energy to get us there (it does not hurt that I've recently began taking magnesium for sleep and vitamin d through our drab weather!). Every day that we have together is a gift, and I want to make the most of my time and live intentionally. Nothing is more disheartening than a day spent in mindless boredom. I want my kids to wake up each morning with a sense of purpose and some jobs to do...with that in mind, some goals for the upcoming year on our wee acreage:

1. Make the most of our time

At first glance, this does not seem like a huge goal. I am fairly efficient and we have a good routine at home that keeps us busy and productive. But there is a difference between working hard and working smart. I am spending too much time in the kitchen (ask my weigh scale!). I bake all of our bread now, and am finding that two days of the week are being spent on baking. This works for me in the winter when I am less inclined to be outside, but I want to make it a sustainable part of my routine once spring arrives and I am spending 6-8 hours/day outside. I want to tinker with a more structured routine where I bake and freeze 2 loaves of bread, plus another 2 loaves for that week's breakfasts, plus any other baking I have planned. This should free up that second day for outside work or, for the remainder of the winter, housecleaning one room/week. I also want to downsize some of the closet-clutter I have hoarded over the years, which leads me to...

2. Let Go of Unnecessary Clutter

We were quite ruthless when we moved and did get rid of a lot of possessions that we didn't want or use. That said, there was still a full truck load of things left in my brother's shop once our garage and basement were finished--things that we had not needed in a year and things that I resented having to find space for. Much of it went in a garage sale, none of it sold, all of it went immediately to the thrift store that supports our local women's shelter. It was great to not even unload that stuff in our new house. However, I realize lately that there is more to sort and donate. There is a garbage bag of my old clothes that I have kept, in spite of not wearing fitting any of it in years.

Does any of this sound familiar? Yet another blogger committing to de-clutter and lose weight in the new year? Perhaps it is redundant and it has surely been said better on different sites, but my focus this year is on our well-being and sharing our joy...part of that process is letting go of things that don't fit...whether it is clothes and weight that I have been packing around for years, or the old friendships that have not been working either. We are happy and settled in our new home and we are at a point where if something continues to drag us backward, we must gently and with love just let it go. I want my experiences to uplift my family and those that we deal with. When interactions have taken on a toxic flavour, when superiority and negativity have tainted the relationship, and when it seems that no amount of forgiving and trying again can bring it back, perhaps it is time to move on without bitterness and without regret. With much love and much hope for the future, I will be letting go this year of things that no longer work in our lives.

3. Find New Avenues of Income For Myself

As much as I am able, I hope to sell some of the items that we no longer need. I want to schedule myself a few hours/week where I post and tend to selling online a few worthy possessions, like a double stroller and some like-new things that the kids have outgrown. Likewise, I want to set aside some time for myself to either work or create, with the hope of generating a bit of income to boost my morale and teach my kids about small business. Some ideas I have so far are: sell some baking, create more crafts for next year's Christmas Craft Sale, designate a larger garden area to sell produce and preserves. We are in serious discussions regarding getting chickens for meat this year. It will really depend on if we can get a suitable shelter built in time, and whether or not I "chicken out" at the last minute! I also want to spend more time on my blog and see if there are any opportunities to write more in my future. The thought of a two day/week return to actual paid employment also resurfaces from time to time. A lot of what transpires will also depend on the continued good health of our children, which leads me the final and very most important priority of 2015:

4. Healthy, Happy Kids

We had a rough patch near the end of 2014. We had a good hard look down a road that we never want to travel, and my heart absolutely aches for families that go through a serious illness with one of their children. In a heartbeat my world was forever changed, my one and only care will only ever be that my children are healthy and learn to cope with the difficulties that life will throw at them. Meaningful experiences, intentional living, and treasuring every moment will be the themes of our future. We are slowly returning to some of the activities we had planned last year--the first of which is swimming lessons. It is the only activity we will be paying for this is likely that I will return "J" (the now-5-year-old) to his 2 hour/week playschool group in February. Fresh air, exercise, homegrown food and plenty of sleep is what is in store for our little men. It sounds like a really good plan for the grown-ups too ;)

The focus for our family in the coming year is JOY--joy in being healthy together. GRATITUDE--being ever-grateful for each other and the opportunities that we have. We are also grateful for the people that make our lives so wonderful. We want to nurture the relationships that encourage and uplift, and lovingly let go of the ones that do not. I speak of living intentionally. By that I mean I want us to live according to our values, working everyday towards our common goals. This means no mindless spending, no mindless boredom. We want to be CONSCIOUS of where every dollar is going, conscious of what we spend our time doing, and make adjustments to keep our activities in tune with our goals. Let there be meaning in everything we do, let our lives brighten the lives of those around us, let us always find the strength to face our challenges. If I'm able, I hope to share those experiences on this blog. 

What have you got planned for 2015?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Five Years

Happy fifth birthday to a wonderful little boy that has faced some incredible challenges in the past year. Through it all he has remained cooperative, happy, enthusiastic and an inspiration to me and our family. 

I hope the year to come is a gentle one, my bestest friend!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

If You Buy Only ONE Cookbook...

...It should be the Complete  America's  Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2014.

No one is paying me to say that. I am a fan of the show, and I am a big, big fan of their recipes. So are my family members, the biggest critics of all.

If you are familiar with the show, you know that the Test Kitchen chooses traditional and favorite recipes and works diligently to improve the recipe results while also making the recipe easier for the home cook to use. While the recipes might end up being somewhat fussier than the "gramma" recipes that I usually use, the quality of the food makes it well worth the effort. Each recipe explains the process undertaken to achieve the best result, from fluffiest omelet to Buffalo Style Wings, with a "Why This Recipe Works" section that teaches in simple terms.

I bought my copy of the HUGE cookbook in the spring of 2014. It has virtually replaced my other cookbooks, although I will keep them for sentimental reasons (most of them came from my granny). My stir-fries, cakes, cookies and bread have gone to a whole new level. I've especially enjoyed experimenting with thin-crust pizza and my interest in bread-making just grows and grows.

We make Multigrain Bread (p 558) at least twice a week. I now bake all our own bread and my kids will no longer eat "town bread"!

 I talk about this recipe book with all my friends, and I thought I would pass word on to anyone who reads this blog. If you are looking for a cookbook with recipes from breakfast and brunch to desserts and BBQs, this one is money well spent. The Test Kitchen tests the recipes dozens, sometimes hundreds, of times to ensure that the method is of highest standards. The food that results is delicious, the cooking experience is a pleasure, and your guests and family will definitely notice the difference.

Rustic Country Bread, p 552

Our new birthday cupcake favorite: Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes p 622

Have you found any new favorite recipes lately?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Bits and Bobs

I love thrifting. I wouldn't say that I am a shopper, most of the time, but I do love to find old treasures and bring them back to life. You can read more here, here and here.

On one of our trips to either the kids' specialist or my mom's eye doctor, I found a gem at the little thrift store in North Battleford, SK.

Old cupboard window: $10

It's been almost a year of checking other thrift stores, antique and collectible shops, hardware stores and the like, looking for the perfect hooks to complete what I have planned for the old cupboard door.

The other day I was able to use an old gift card to purchase the perfect hooks for the job.

I plan to space 3 hooks across the bottom of the old cupboard door, for hanging keys or hats. 

I think I will wait until Husband can help me drill the holes for the hooks and hanging the door, but I do believe this old $10 find would fetch me a good bit more if I sold it at next year's Christmas Craft Sale. I haven't decided yet, it will depend how it looks, but there is also a spot for it next to the front door if I decide to keep it.

Have you waited patiently to find just the right element to complete a project? Or do you use whatever is available to get the job done?

Committing to Commit

Last year I began a new quilt. As spring approached I knew I wouldn't complete the project before it was nice enough to get outside and begin work on my as-yet-unfinished fish pond. The sewing machine was packed away, as was the material and the blocks that I had completed, with the uneasy feeling that it would be difficult to pick up again after a year. 

Yup. Turns out that is the case.

Today I'm attempting to pick up where I left off--not with much enthusiasm, more of a determination to complete the job. I find that loose ends leave me feeling dissatisfied and, left undone, this quilt will steal some of the pleasure from beginning a new pattern with new material (already purchased and waiting). I am committing to myself that I will finish the quilt top in the next few weeks, and learn to hand-quilt and bind the thing before winter's end. 

How about you? Have you finished any projects lately that you are proud of?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Flour Bag Follies

Yesterday we had a family day out. We took our recycling to a bottle depot about an hour away so that I could try to use a gift certificate that I've had for a few years. Knowing how tired the kids would be on the drive home, I grabbed my few groceries in that town so we wouldn't have to stop at our local supermarket on our way home. I have a lot of baking to do today (an excited boy has his fifth birthday party tomorrow), so all purpose flour was on my list. 

Generally I buy Robinhood flour when it is on sale, or yellow no name because it is cheaper. I've been making all of our own bread for months and really burn through a bag of flour nowadays. At the small discount grocer we went to yesterday, Robinhood flour was about $13 for a 10 lb bag. I try to buy it for under $10, so I bought the Safeway brand for $9.99/10 lb. I double-checked the bag for holes because it's becoming a real pet peeve to get home with food that has been slashed open by stock boys and their box cutters. The bag had no holes when we left the store. This is how it looked when we got it home:

No, we didn't drop it or drag it. A simple truck ride on the floor had several holes in the bag. As I attempted to pour the flour into my bin it tore down the side and I lost more flour all over my kitchen floor. 

In all, there were 5 or 6 holes in the flour bag and it split open trying to pour it. I was very annoyed that the company has sacrificed a usable package in order to make more money. The actual product does not cost less than other brands (it was cheaper than brand name in that store but right on par with most flour in this area). Putting their flour in a flimsy bag didn't save the consumer any money, it only taught me not to buy that brand of flour again. 

Have you had any annoying packaging to deal with lately?