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. 


  1. Wow on the insurance! But good for you - figure out what you are doing with that $1100 so it doesn't disappear. Your son sounds adorable buying another little one a hot dog :-)

    Fab list Jill!!! Good luck - you can do this!

    1. I've been working towards reducing my grocery spending for so long now. It seems like in the last 2 months it's really coming together. I have no doubt that I can build a stockpile of dry goods while also spending less. I think physically carrying cash is going to make a big difference in how I shop--I feel like blogging about it has really kept me accountable and on task. Thanks for your encouragement Pru! And PS, yes he's adorable. Tonight he said to his little brother: do you know why they call them bunk beds? Because you can fall out of them and bunk your head! Haha I just died laughing :)

  2. awesomeness!!

    i can absolutely vouch for the cash angle. it has enormous powers of restriction and i find when i fall out of that habit, that's when overspending occurs.

    i had to giggle at your fabric addiction. i can utterly relate -- i have an assortment of borderline addictions that i'm keeping under precarious control. ;) fabric, plants/seeds, books....oh, the lovely things!! lol

    i have an envelope system of saving - inspired by my Mum who was in turn inspired by her Mum who, according to family legend, could make a pound of ground beef last a week. i have various savings funds going -- Christmas [a large chunk of it is funded by the sale of the turkeys - their one redeeming quality!], my garden [funded entirely by my egg money and the odd bits i squirrel away] -- i find again, having the cash set aside makes it more 'real' and i'm less likely to rob myself. :)

    oh, and school? biggest cash grab going. there's always something going on! that's so sweet of your little one to buy for a friend....super sweet and shows a genuinely good heart.

    thanks for writing these posts -- they keep me thinking of other ways i can be more sensible with money. it's all too easy to be led astray....


    1. Mel, thanks for commenting! It all feels so hopeless at times...thanks for your encouragement. It helps me to struggle on...

  3. You've done a great job with your lists :) It's really surprising how the money bleeds out, isn't it? My biggest wake up call was tracking every cent we spent. That was scary because we realized were losing a lot of money each month to small purchases that really added up to big dollars. We also saved $700 this year by switching insurance providers! That's a LOT of money!

    I actually find that garage sales are even cheaper than thrift stores for kids things (clothes and toys, etc) and garden/yard items. I would not hesitate to clean up a garage sale find for a child for a Christmas gift (if it was in very good condition and was something the child wanted). It can be hard to get out to the sales with out kids, but if you had a good list and went a few times/year, you'd probably do well! I also find fabric this way and also use the thrift store for fabric as well. I quite often find new yardage there and I buy clothing, draperies and duvets/sheets for the fabric as well!

    Freecycle is excellent but perhaps not so much for you as you live rurally...

    Keep at it - you're doing great. I find the longer you've been on the frugality track, the easier it gets. The most important thing is to learn from your mistakes and keep adjusting your budget. You CAN do this!!!

    1. I can imagine that garage sales are even better--my friend got a bunch of high priced barely worn clothes at one this summer. It is hard to get to them without kids or without already having been in town too long. I think I'll plan a day of it this spring and see how I do :) you're right, too, that it gets easier as you go. Thanks for commenting I'm a big fan of your blog :)