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 I had withdrawn $700 for the month, which was to include dog and cat food and some items for a winter stockpile of food.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.