Friday, 30 December 2016

Weekly Column: Live a Simple Life

Once again, these columns get posted here a few weeks behind their publication in the local paper. I hope everyone reading has enjoyed a wonderful holiday and has a safe New Year!

Live a simple life

As Christmas approaches it’s easy to feel crushed by the noise, glitter and encroaching clutter of what should be the happiest time of year. Let’s face it, even at the best of times there’s a lot of pressure to have “the most” and Christmas is when our consumerist and materialistic demons really rear their ugly heads. There is pressure to feed everyone the finest meal, have the cleanest home, put up the most Christmas lights, be the most cheerful and, of course, have the most gifts under the tree.

Less is more

Parents, think back on your childhood and recall: was there a most treasured gift that you remember being truly excited about? Why do you think it stands out in your memory? Probably because it was something new and all your own that you had anticipated and waited for. How long do kids nowadays have to wait for anything? How is it possible to give our kids that same magical experience when their rooms are already overflowing with toys that they may or may not appreciate? Here is a hint—it’s not by indulging them, everyday of the year, with treats and “stuff” and creating an even greater expectation of what is special.

Simplify

Though likely too late to make any drastic changes this year, the busy weeks leading up to Christmas are a good time to consider what is working in your lifestyle and what is dragging you down. If the holidays present themselves as yet another example of your inability to make everyone happy, it’s a good indication that things have gone off the rails. But how to get things back on a more meaningful, intentional track?

Minimalism is a lifestyle that might, at first, scare the designer jeans off a person used to hunting for and buying new possessions. But don’t panic. Minimalism is different things to different people—but most agree that it is the unburdening oneself of excess and waste. Whether it is excess belongings, noise, distractions, or obligations, minimalism is meant to allow you to focus on what is left behind once those excesses are shed. For example, people, relationships, hobbies, travel, learning. A minimalist lifestyle is one that is sustainable, frugal, debt-free and natural (mnmlist.com).

Comparing apples to oranges

Let’s say you’ve taken a cut in pay over the last few years but you’re still kicking. You have maintained most of your old habits while making a few cutbacks to get by. No one knows what a struggle it is to maintain. The kids still have their designer labels and your Instagram account is still zinging with pictures of family trips and home d├ęcor and the tree buried in gifts this year. The debt is piling up or at least not receding, and there is no real plan how to stop the interest from burying you someday in the future. What’s worse, there is a sense of dissatisfaction that permeates the lifestyle. There is never enough time with your family because you can’t possibly make enough money to keep everything chugging along. You are exhausted, and it’s no wonder.

No one is saying you have to ditch your life and move into a tiny home. Adopting a more minimalist attitude could be as simple as purging your home of all the unwanted, unnecessary items that you have to clean and keep tidy to maintain your sanity. It means not buying anything to fill those empty spaces. Unburden yourself, also, from the interruptions of social media notifications that give a false sense of busyness and distract you from your face to face relationships. Don’t text during meals, family time and visits with friends. Allow your kids to be bored and entertain themselves. 

Imaginations are being stunted by the constant screen time offered to keep them under control. If activities 6 nights a week are exhausting the budget and family, commit only to the most vital extra-curricular activities and focus on quiet, simple time together instead. Notice what makes your family feel positive and content, and do more of those things.

Find your balance


It is one thing to choose a more minimalist lifestyle because it suits you, but quite another to have it thrust upon you by unforeseen circumstances like job loss. There is a silver-lining, though, when you consider that rejecting consumerism can also mean embracing a life where you invest yourself in meaningful relationships and experiences instead of trying to keep up with the neighbours. Once the preoccupation with having more and better things is behind you, you will find the time and clarity to explore what gives you a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, outside of the consumer rat race. Here’s to a 2017 filled with a minimum of things and the maximum of joy.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

2017: Bring It!

As usual, I have no wise words about the turning of the page into a new year. Nor any beautiful photos or inspiring message about Christmas. The season of giving. I fear we spend our time and money giving to people that don't need anything, and neglect those right under our noses who need so much.

There is never the time I want to give to this blog. With that in mind I am just going to get to the point. I had a quick read through last year's un-resolutions and thought that I would report on how we did. Lastly, I'd like to set my sights on where I'd like to see the next 365 or so days take us (until I once again sit here to reflect on what we did and didn't do).

2016

Record Keeping:

Without realizing it, I did manage to set up a decent (enough) system to keep Husband's bills etc straight. There were no major upsets when it came time to do taxes and our accountant has helped me set up interim payments so that we hopefully won't end up owing money at the end of the year. This is major, as unexpected debt is the last thing we want.

I did well through out the winter keeping track of household spending, doing menu-plans and reporting on the blog. That exercise alone helped us save hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the year. Going through statements and reducing fees, cancelling satellite subscription, reducing our cell bill, the list goes on. If you haven't done so, commit an afternoon to reducing fees. Research a more affordable (but reputable with good coverage) home insurance plan. One phone call saved me something like $700 last year. If you have been thinking about making changes, take the time to do it.

I also wanted to do better with pictures for the blog. In fact, I want to do better with pictures of my kids' life. Once these cell phones go obsolete, and they will, my kids will not have a record of their childhoods. Not only that, but the grandparents in Newfoundland get very few pictures and I want to do better. Luckily, Santa found a barely used camera that I had been wanting. Now to learn how to use it properly!

2016 saw some purchases that I had not anticipated. One was a new truck for Husband's work (very much needed) and the other was a new camper (very much not needed). It is always a push/pull between my viewpoint and Husband's as far as goals and saving. In the meantime we sold our old camper and the new one will be used in Husband's line of work so it will eventually start paying for itself. We compromised on the layout of the RV and found one that was under the budget I had insisted upon. So it was something I was comfortable doing although I would have chosen to save and pay cash (we financed it but have a plan to pay it off very early!).

As a result of these purchases coupled with a real scare when a company took months to pay us for a large invoice, I got extra serious and motivated about our budget. It surprised me to look back on last year's goals and not see anything financial. But increased blogging, the near miss of not being paid, then getting a regular column in the local paper really brought about my increased interest and determination in the budget department.

2016 was a year where I tried many new homesteading activities. We had pigs, meat birds, were given rabbits, had our first lambs and continued to garden. I have had no time to sew. It was exhausting and fulfilling. I recognize how hard it is to do all of the travel and play that my Husband would like when we have so much work at home. It was also very overwhelming with him gone for months at a time. There won't be pigs this coming year but I feel that meat birds are a necessity.



The wonderful opportunity to read a novel in progress for a bloggy friend also inspired me to make writing more of a priority. It was always my goal in life. Having a weekly column has allowed me to schedule in writing time. While harder for me to get around to blogging, it has motivated me to insist on some quiet to write. In this sense I have made much better use of my evenings (at least while Husband is away) and I have been reading another friend's novel lately. When that is done I hope to WILL return to my own writing as a priority. It is important to me to encourage and help this friend but I also realize that if I don't put myself first my own plans will once again go by the wayside.

2017--You are Mine, All Mine!

No, not really. But for the first time in years I can feel myself becoming part of the conversation again. I have written at length about my interests and personal goals (heck, that's the point of this blog). But many people, women in particular, will understand the subtle ways that our own identity can be sucked into work/responsibility/caring for others/meeting expectations without having time to reevaluate what we really want. I am almost 40 and it is time to be a complete person again.

I want to emphasize that it is no one's fault but my own that I continually put others first over the years. I have had many opportunities to do things where I have chickened out or felt that I shouldn't. I am not griping about my wonderful life. Many of my homesteading "slow" living goals are what consistently take away from the time I might instead spend writing/exercising etc. The trouble has been for me to find balance and not feel guilty for wanting a little time to myself. But making time to practice writing, exercise, apply face moisturizer, dress with some semblance of care...none of these things are selfish. None of these things require much more than better organization, some boundaries, and the ability to say "no". This is "my time".

I have been providing childcare for a friend on a part time basis. It is a win-win since my little O loves to have playmates come over a few times a week. The kids are sweet and it keeps me motivated to get everything done before and after they are here. In the fall my little O will go to kindergarten every day and I (if we can afford it) plan not to do childcare and, instead, keep those whole days to myself so I can write. To create. To work with my brother at the farm. To be a helpful part of this community. Probably the year after I will rejoin the workforce, so this year, 2017, is a year that I want to focus on writing and personal development.

With that in mind, I have registered for an online writing course starting in January. I am beyond excited and nervous about the class. This brings me to another goal, which is SCHEDULING. With a little boy in skating lessons and my part time childcare job and my weekly column, plus my commitment to this blog, homemade food, daily exercise and my animals and firewood etc, keeping a tight schedule will be essential. I may not find the time to report our spending on this blog. I may not return to entering every expenditure in spreadsheets like I did so faithfully last year. But my commitment to a frugal, practical lifestyle remains just as strong. My commitment to my family is stronger than ever. And 2017 will be the year, barring any unforeseen disasters, where I can focus on myself as well as my posse. I am so ready for it!


Monday, 26 December 2016

Weekly Column: Countdown to 2017

This column hit my local paper about a month ago--although Christmas has now passed I hope it's still relevant as we enter the new year. I hope everyone has a safe and happy celebration!

Countdown to 2017

What kind of a year would you like 2017 to be? Let’s hope it’s peaceful. But on a personal level, what do you want for yourself and your family in the coming year? Obviously, good health and time together will top the list but how does “stress-free” sound? If you could put some effort into preparing for the financial challenges you will face in the future, would you? Remember that if you keep doing what you’ve been doing you will keep getting what you’ve been getting. If money has stressed you out in 2016, what changes are you willing to make so that 2017 doesn’t follow that same path?

December may be an impossible month to think of having a shopping ban, but January is well suited to some frugal cutbacks. Who wants to see the inside of a store in January, anyways? But what about the Boxing Day sales, you might ask. Unless there’s something you’ve been waiting to buy on a fantastic sale, avoid spending more after you’ve already blown a wad on Christmas.

Is there really anything you need? If so, Boxing Day is a great time to buy if your item is significantly reduced in price. But how many other “deals” will you be unable to resist? It’s a slippery slope when money is tight. Remember that by the time the credit card bill arrives in January the “new” will have already worn off your impulsive splurges. Will you regret it then? Maybe it’s best to avoid the sales and the buyer’s remorse that comes with them.

Do some winter reading

Prepare for a more financially stable 2017 by reading about budgets, reducing debt and saving. Keep these issues on the forefront of your mind—there’s much inspiration to be found on blogs like Mr. Money Mustache (language warning!), written by a retired 30-year-old. Frugalwoods is another great read, following a family that saves over 70% of their monthly income with extreme frugality. Do you need to be so radical? Of course not. But if you’re struggling and don’t know where to start, reading about people who have gained control of their finances is very motivating. Likewise, some financial classics such as Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin, Debt Free Forever by Gail Vaz-Oxlade or David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber are as relevant now as ever (get them from the library!).

Pay yourself first

After your bills are paid, and before you buy yourself or your kids any extras, have money automatically transferred to another account. Earmark this money for an extra mortgage payment, investments, emergencies. Whatever you decide, don’t go to the trouble of reducing your spending without actually putting the savings to good use. It’s very possible to reduce spending in some areas only to have it trickle away in others. Make a plan with concrete objectives and follow through with action.

This isn’t a New Year’s resolution

We all know what happens with the promises made over champagne on New Year’s Eve. By February the gym membership is a waste and you’ve resumed all your old habits. Unless you immerse yourself in some education and develop new attitudes to money, 2017 is likely to be as stressful as 2016 was. Be proactive. If online shopping is your weakness, unsubscribe from mailing lists and limit your internet time. If apps like Pinterest make you yearn for more stuff, remove them from your phone or suspend your account. Instead of meals out, connect with friends over a cup of coffee. Turn no-spend days into no-spend weeks. Graduate to entire months where you buy only the essentials. Challenge a friend or relative to a shopping ban. And remember, when you feel pressured to join in on expensive activities that you can’t afford, “No” is a complete sentence. You don’t need to explain or justify that decision. Real friends will respect that. Spending to be accepted is not only foolhardy, it is chasing approval that you can’t sustain.

Finding a new normal


This is not to say that the financial woes of the last few years are simply a consumer problem. People took a significant financial hit and it takes time to recover. But recovery will come when you can consistently spend less than you are making. Create habits that save you money. Get creative about earning more. Do something with the surplus—build an emergency fund, snowball your debt, plan for your retirement. Invest your time in people that enjoy you for who you are, not for what you own. New “stuff” does nothing for your future. It gives a fleeting sense of accomplishment and a joy that quickly fades. It leads to more stress. Start preparing now for a 2017 that takes you down a more simple, stable financial path.

Friday, 23 December 2016

A Good Reminder

On Sunday Husband and I had planned to take 6 year old J on a three hour road trip to see my lovely and talented friends in a play. It was a Christmas show and, I thought, the perfect opportunity to introduce him to the magic of live theatre.

Well, as life often does, a wrench was thrown into our plans when Husband became ill with the flu in the night on Saturday. He was not up for the trip come Sunday morning. So I went from a leisurely day riding shotgun to having to drive a truck to (and around in) the city. Particularly parking downtown! ACK! Picture the Clampetts approaching Beverly Hills, if you will :)

I also had to do the chores and fuel the truck before we could go, and drop off O at gramma's for his playdate. My morning was quickly getting behind schedule but soon enough we were on our way. Adventure awaits! We had planned a lovely lunch out (somewhere with nuggets and fries, J promised me lol) and a walk through Toys R Us to find a Christmas gift from J to O.

We were over an hour away from home when I realized I had forgotten my purse. Thankfully, I had shoved a $50 bill into my pocket that morning so I could pay my friend for the tickets as she had bought them for us. Very, very quickly, my mindset went from a fun day together with my boy to "Oh my goodness, what if something goes wrong I don't even have my ID or credit cards!"

I quickly realized how fortunate I was to have any money at all on my person. Yes, I had a cell phone and could call my friend and meet her before the show to borrow money (I actually did, afterwards). But I had the opportunity to finish that drive, spend the afternoon in the city, and drive home, all with the sense of being vulnerable should anything go wrong. I didn't have a mastercard in my hand to wave around and fix whatever came my way. Without a purse it might be hard to get anyone to help us if we needed it. In fact, people might not believe my story at all. Without ID I might be accused of stealing the truck, kidnapping the child, God knows! (Yes, that is how my brain can amplify a simple problem in to a calamity! LOL)

Believe me, I know that many people would be grateful to have a $50 bill in their pocket right now. In no way am I trying to be ignorant. It was a wake up call to me, though, to return to the feeling of not having any money that I remember from when I was young out on my own. And even when I was young and broke, I had a huge safety net in that my parents had money and food if I ever needed it. So many people have no safety net at all.

Normally we travel with snacks and drinks. J even suggested he pack his lunch kit and I agreed. But the hectic morning got the better of me and I grabbed my coffee mug and off we went. "If you get hungry I'll buy you a bag of chips," I told him as we raced out the door. Once I realized I had no purse, I explained to J that we wouldn't buy his brother a gift that day. "I was just going to say that," he gamely agreed. He is such a grown up little boy! $50 is more than enough to feed us two meals each but I wanted to have a bit of money in case I needed it and I had planned to stop for some fresh veggies to save me a trip to town later in the week. We stopped at a Smitty's for our lunch and I was quickly dismayed to find that there is very little on the menu for under $14. Yes, I could have ordered toast or a bowl of soup. If I was really in a situation where I only had $50 to get by we would have been purchasing our lunch at a grocery store. Anyways, I had poutine for $7 and J got his nuggets and fries with an apple juice for $6. So we were then down to $37.

During the show's intermission J insisted he needed a drink. Water and juice was $3/bottle as was coffee. There went another $6 (for what it's worth, he got the juice. Yes, that's too much juice for a kid in a day. If you want the truth, he also had a juice at supper. It was a total free-for-all day). So by this point we were down to $31 and still had to pay for our parking spot in a pay lot. I had parked at Toys R Us because I felt more confident parking the truck in the larger lot; although it was completely packed with Christmas shoppers I did manage to park with no problems. After the show I borrowed $20 from my friend just to be sure we would get home okay.

If you make a $10 purchase at Toys R Us your parking is free, so we did look around but there was nothing for under $30 that we could decide on and the budget is $20 max. Needless to say it didn't hurt my feelings to say to heck with shopping, at this point, and just get on the road home. The parking came to $7 and part of me wondered if it wouldn't have been smarter to pick out a $10 item for a future birthday party and at least have that to show for the experience, but in the moment it was more important to me to save that $3. With my purse along I might have bought a $30 gift and considered the free parking a savings on the gift but I didn't have $30 to spare.

Our day out was still great. J got a wonderful backstage tour and he was fascinated, as was I, with all the bells and whistles of a real theatrical production. The show was fantastic. For a 6 year old to watch real actors at work in person was, to me, priceless. There is such a difference between mindlessly watching TV and taking part in the intimate atmosphere of the theatre. I am so very glad we were able to do it.

As for sitting in the discomfort of not having my credit or debit card to back me up for a day, I am glad I had the opportunity to really think about what so many women are facing. Sure, it's men too. But as a woman alone with my child on the road with no ID and very little money, it didn't take much imagining for me to put myself in the boots of a woman who has had to flee abuse with only the shirt on her back and no idea where she is going. Of course I didn't feel her fear or anguish. But I could imagine her vulnerability and it reminded me to reach out, often, to my local women's shelter and donate gift cards and hygiene products to help those that find themselves in need.

I write this from a position of incredible privilege. An afternoon with only $50 ($70, actually)? Pfffffft!! So many people would love to have a vehicle in good working order, a full tank of fuel and $70 to help them get where they are going.

I save our pennies year round so that we can splurge on little excursions like Sunday's. I am so fortunate to be able to pick up and go on a 6 hour round trip on a whim. I am so aware of that. What I wasn't aware of was how secure I feel wherever I go because I have a credit card and access to emergency funds. Spending a day feeling insecure was a good reminder why I do what I do to save money. It was a reminder that others aren't fortunate enough, for whatever reasons, to have that sense of security. So many people live with insecurity and stress all the time. It was a good reminder to do what I can to help those who could use a hand, and an excellent motivator to keep squirreling funds away in case of emergency. Not to mention a reminder to double check that I've got my purse :)

Monday, 19 December 2016

Weekly Column: Budget your money

Budget your money

Here is a question for you: do you know how much money you need, every month, to cover all of your expenses? Do you know exactly how much money you will bring in every month? If you answered yes to both of those questions, there’s a good chance you budget your money. Even if you don’t budget, knowing how much money is coming in and going out is the first step in gaining control of your finances.

Granted, income and expenses can fluctuate month-to-month. Anyone in the oil patch (or agriculture) knows they might be eating chicken one month and feathers the next. Never has that been more true than the last couple years in the local area.

“But it stresses me out,” you might say. “My spouse won’t follow a budget even if I make one,” others complain. “We never get ahead no matter what we try,” is another familiar reason to give up.
But the fact is, working out a budget is the fastest and simplest way to get ahead financially. It allows you to set goals and take real steps towards realizing them. It will point out where money is being lost and give you an opportunity to stop hemorrhaging your hard -earned pay.  

List income, expenses and spending

Track your spending for one month (two or three is even better). Go through statements and use a spreadsheet or online worksheet to keep track of your numbers. A great resource is http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources/guide_to_building_budget.html. In those guidelines, find a link to Gail’s interactive budget worksheet and fill it out.

Set savings goals

If you do not have any savings it is paramount that you begin an emergency fund. This is a fund that would cover all of your bills and expenses for 3 to 6 months. As many people found out the hard way when oil crashed, a 6-month emergency fund may not even be enough. Go through your list of expenses and see where you can make cuts until you have an adequate emergency fund.

Now the fun part. List some things you want to work towards. There are three types of goals: short, medium and long-term. In the short-term you may need a new phone or want an ipad. You could price these out (hopefully waiting for a good sale or promotion) and decide how long it will take you to save that much money. Remember, be realistic when setting goals. If you only have a few bucks left over at the end of the month this may take awhile!

A medium-term goal might be saving a down payment for a vehicle or house. The bigger the sum you want to save, the longer it will take. In the long-term, it is also wise to put money aside for retirement and your children’s education.

Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. Just the simple action of tracking your spending for a month or two will likely expose areas where you can save money. Divert the money into savings rather than letting it run through your fingers. Let’s say you’ve got $100 leftover at the end of the month. After you have your emergency fund topped up, decide how you will divide that $100 between your short, medium and long-term goals. You may be so inspired that you are able to find further places to cut spending, or might find new opportunities to earn more money.

Pay yourself first

If you wait for there to be money leftover, you will never feel there is enough for you to contribute to your savings. Remove the money before you even see it and get used to living off what is leftover. Be realistic, though, and don’t run up your credit cards because you are leaving yourself short of money.

Learn from your budget

Now that you have taken the time to track your spending and list some goals, what is your budget telling you? If your housing is costing you more than 35% of your monthly income, you may need to find a cheaper accommodation or take in a roommate. Likewise, if that second vehicle is unnecessary and the payments are bringing you down, you might want to think about selling it. Following a budget will give you an idea how much you can spend in a month. Once that amount has been spent, it is time to cut back until next month.

Over time, it gets easier to stick to a budget. The urge to spend impulsively gets tamed and looking ahead to your goals becomes as satisfying as the short-term gratification of a shopping spree. Write a budget that works, eliminate unnecessary spending, and get out of debt. It’s a dream that can be your reality if you make the effort and commit to a budget today.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Weekly Column: The Emotional Reasons for Spending

The emotional reasons for spending



There are many reasons why people spend—or overspend—their money. We spend to celebrate, to fit in, to project an image of success and capability, to show our love. Beyond the responsibility of bills and life’s necessities, we are also subjected to a barrage of advertising that tells us our next purchase will make us fashionable, cool, respected, envied…. happy.

Often, people don’t question their impulse to buy more. We might need only a few things, yet consistently bring home extras we didn’t know we needed. This can be especially true when shopping online. Who hasn’t gone in search of a specific item only to end up down the rabbit hole with a shopping cart full of unexpected wants and “needs”? The question is, once you come up for air, do you pull the trigger on those purchases or do you sleep on it and reconsider the desire to spend more than you had planned?

Spending is an emotional process

It would be interesting to know what makes a person spend extra money on nonessentials, particularly when money is tight. In many cases, people are seeking to fill an emotional need they don’t realize they have. They might think “what’s the harm” in one or two nice things for themselves or their kids? After all, that $40, $60 or $100 isn’t going to do much to help their financial situation, right?

When feeling stressed, bored, underappreciated or unhappy, treating yourself to something new might not seem like the worst thing you could do. But over time, and unchecked, this emotional spending can make a bad situation much worse and add unnecessary stress to life and relationships—possibly triggering more spending and stress in the process.

The immediate personal gratification of buying yourself something new can be a feeling you want to repeat over and over. The thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction you feel at acquiring what you sought can overshadow the reality that you don’t need or can’t afford to be shopping. For many, the euphoria quickly fades, sometimes into feelings of guilt, and the stress lingers until the pursuit of something new begins again. It turns out that the emotional hole is one that cannot be filled with possessions, no matter how much time and money gets spent trying.

Question the need to shop

In a world that is quickly filling up with disposable toys, appliances, electronics and other garbage, there are a multitude of reasons to curb the consumerism our society promotes. Top among them is the possibility that all that spending and all that “stuff” is not actually bringing you want you want: acceptance and happiness. Often, the pressure to find a place for your new things, keep them clean, store them or dispose of them creates a sense of more to do in an already too-busy lifestyle. All-in-all, you might find yourself better off once you identify what is driving your need to shop.

Before allowing yourself to purchase something impulsively, ask yourself some questions. Will I use this? Do I actually need this? Will I still want this in five years? One year? If I leave it for now, would I bother to come back for it tomorrow? Quite often the answer will be no.

If the impulse to shop for unnecessary things persists, you might ask yourself a few more questions. Are you feeling unfulfilled in your career or relationship? Have you ceased to challenge yourself in other areas and are you in a rut that shopping can’t get you out of? Is it more serious than that? Have you suffered a loss and are you struggling to get back on your feet? Do you feel bad about yourself and have you stopped seeing the good in everyday life?

Nurture the spirit

There’s no amount of personal bling that can boost your spirits like having a real, genuine friend to talk to. Learning something new, challenging your body and mind, will invigorate you more than any object you could buy. Investing in your own personal development might not come for free but, in the end, you will have more to show for it (and hopefully be happier) than continuing the costly and self-destructive cycle of overspending on material things.

People have many reasons for spending their money the way that they do. They might be repeating the lifestyle they were raised in or maybe they’ve never thought of changing their ways. If they’re caught up on bills and have emergency funds and retirement money set aside, there is no real harm in indulging a few extravagant whims. But when people find themselves in a lifestyle they can’t sustain, maybe it’s time to stop seeking creature comforts and look within for the need you are trying fill.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Weekly Column: Food Waste is a Crying Shame

Food waste is a crying shame

About one third of the planet’s food goes to waste, often because it doesn’t look perfect. According to The National Geographic, that’s enough to feed 2 billion people.

That’s shameful.

According to the same article (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/03/global-food-waste-statistics/), 6 billion pounds of US fruits and vegetables go either unharvested or unsold annually, often because the product isn’t flawless.

While families go hungry worldwide, tons of bananas get dumped for being too short, too long or too curved. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, enough food is squandered annually (about 2.9 trillion pounds per year) to feed the world’s 800 million hungry people twice over.

In developing nations, much of the waste is due to lack of storage, refrigeration or roads. But what is our excuse?

In developed countries, retailers might not accept imperfect looking produce. In other cases, it might get discarded due to overstocking. And, sadly, in almost every home it spoils in the fridge and gets tossed out without ever being served. Imagine the produce that you purchase at considerable cost manages to be marketed and then, at the point of consumption, gets forgotten or otherwise wasted. We are all guilty of this. Food waste, whether on factory farms, at the retailer, or in your own garbage, is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world (behind only China and the US).

That’s obscene.

Consider the amount of water, fertilizer, fuel and pesticides wasted to produce food that nobody eats. And yet the cost of groceries continues to rise and many people wonder how they will afford to give their children the healthy foods their growing bodies need.

Here’s how

The next time you see fruit or vegetables labeled “imperfect” and offered at a reduced price at your preferred grocery store, buy them. Get over the superficial need for things to be perfect. Yes, you want quality food. But does that mean all the potatoes in the bag need to be uniform in size? Carrots must be perfectly straight? Maybe it’s time to start cutting the worm holes out of apples and accepting some blemishes on our food. Nature does not and should not produce impeccable, flawless food. What it does is provide a bounty large enough for everyone.

If we expect one third of what is grown to be thrown out because it doesn’t look good enough, we are doing something seriously wrong. The only way to change the beliefs of retailers is to create a demand for less expensive, imperfect food. The only people that can create that demand is us, the consumers, and the power is in our wallets.

Here at home

According to the CBC, Canada wastes $31 billion in food per year. The average Canadian household throws out between $1000-1500 in food per year.

Gross.

Don’t you think you could find a better use for that $1500? We are working to buy the food, then throwing it out and, in many cases, working more to pay for it to be accepted at the dump. You may not think that tossing that head of lettuce or that bag of oranges is costing you much, but viewed over a year or a lifetime you have to look at the consequences of buying food grown thousands of miles away, transported to a local store, then purchased and tossed in the garbage.

Stop the cycle

  • ·         Don’t buy 2 for 1 deals if you can’t possibly eat it before it rots. Better yet, buy it and donate or give away the excess
  • ·         Freeze what you can’t eat. Rather than watch your bread mould on the countertop, freeze it and use it slice by slice. Learn to blanch vegetables and freeze them before they spoil (immerse in boiling water for 10 seconds then rapidly cool in ice water and freeze—not rocket science!)
  • ·         Buying in bulk does not save you money if you often throw out unused portions. That 5 pack of Costco salad dressing is not cheaper when you throw two bottles away after their best-before date
  • ·         Use your discretion. Best before dates are an educated guess at how fresh a product will remain. If something smells foul, don’t eat it. Use a menu-plan to keep track of what needs used up and follow through by cooking and eating what you have
  • ·         Eat leftovers
  • ·         Rotate the food in your pantry and freezer to be sure nothing gets overlooked and eventually wasted
  • ·         Buy and demand “imperfect” fruit and vegetables at your local grocery store

Learn more about the food waste problem

If you didn’t catch the recent  Marketplace on CBC, you can watch it online. There is a documentary called “Just Eat It” available to watch for free on knowledge.ca. Watch these with your kids and finish your vegetables!



Sunday, 20 November 2016

Going Whole Hog

A question that crosses my mind quite regularly is whether or not it is "worth it" to grow my own food, heat with wood, bake my own bread, make syrup from sap and the list goes on. Admittedly, there are days where it would certainly be easier to pick up what we need from the store rather than wait for it to grow or fix it, mend it or do without it. But there's something about quick and convenient that just doesn't set right with me. It seems somehow wrong to allow my kids to think everything comes easy, because in real life it doesn't. I am cautious about handing them everything they want as kids because I want them to adjust to adult life and be productive hard workers. Basically, I want them to see how long it takes for fruit to grow on a tree and experience how much better it tastes when you have watched it ripen. That's an analogy we could apply to many things we do around here.

There is something deeply gratifying about eating a meal you grew entirely on your own. Or foraging for native berries and having the time to visit the beach before going home. Or breaking bread that you baked yourself and enjoying it with homemade butter and jam made from the berries you picked that day you played on the beach. That is not to say that everyone needs to make their own butter to lead a fulfilled life! Mostly I mean slowing down to do some of the tasks that are often hired out. Blue berries from a store, air conditioned comfort, prepackaged life.

The money saved by doing these quiet, contemplative tasks is often negligible. By the time I buy the flour and yeast and work to bake the bread I may be money down, depending on the price of the flour. But what of my sanity?

What price do I put on teaching my sons age-old skills that, should they need them, will allow them to feed themselves no matter what they decide to do with their lives? When they learn to care for animals, haul the water, provide the shelter and feed, they think about a world bigger than themselves and their own wants. When they pick the berries and eat the jam they value the labour that goes into their food. When they stack the wood they learn to plan for tomorrow and use their bodies for useful tasks. They have all the space they want to run in, play in, grow in, and that is indeed priceless.

My friend had my kids over to decorate pumpkins with stickers. Since my own pumpkins didn't grow I planned to bake them down for making pumpkin bread. The pumpkins sat until I finally needed to get them out of the garage. I was busy and had a messy kitchen after a long tiring day. I wondered if it was worth it to bother. But why would I compost 4 perfectly good pumpkins then turn around and buy canned pumpkin at the store?


pumpkin puree
While supper cooked, the pumpkin bakes in the oven and I had the whole mess cleaned up by the time the kids were ready for bed.

pumpkin seeds
 We also enjoyed the roasted seeds very much. I ended up with 5 and a half Ziploc bags of puree, enough for 10 loaves of pumpkin bread. At around $3/can I saved $15, had a lovely visit with a neighbour while my kids played, and taught my kids to use up what might go to waste. Instead of spending money, I spent some time preparing local, chemical-free food.

Similarly, we recently had our pigs butchered. At different times this summer I really regretted venturing into pigs. Hauling the grain for them was time consuming and laborious and keeping their water clean and fresh was a chore I didn't love. I had to ask my mom to do my chores while we were away in the summer, which was quite a bit, and I hated to add to anyone's work load. Basically, the pigs were a lot of work but they were entertaining and they ate our kitchen and garden waste along with a couple tons of grain that I hauled here pail by pail from my parent's farm. Let's just say that when the job was finally done I wanted to have as much to show for it as possible. So I rendered the pig fat into lard.


back fat trimmings

fat, chopped and rendering in slow cooker
rendered fat, unfiltered 

our own lard, from our own pigs

Not everyone is going to render down their own pig fat. I giggle even as I type the words. But I do a lot of baking and my sister in law likes making pastry. Canola oil went up to $9/gallon last winter. I expect I'll end up with about 6-8 pint sealers of lard by the time I'm done. This is all by-product that might have gone to waste. At $2/lb I could much easier go buy Tenderflake at Walmart, where I saw it just this morning. But that's not my point.

Living a simple, frugal life is about more than saving $15 on lard. It is about taking yourself out of the consumer transaction whenever possible. It might actually be more frugal to feed the fat trimmings to the dog and buy lard at the store, I don't know. But living an invested life means doing the work ourselves to prevent wasting what we have on hand. If there are saskatoons growing roadside my kids and I are going to pick and freeze them for winter rather than get berries at the grocery store. When butter is $6/lb we will buy the cheaper whole cream, make our own butter and bake with the buttermilk. I am lucky that I have the time to cook and bake and mend and grow things. I know not everyone has that option, and not everyone would choose this lifestyle. That's okay too. You should follow your arrow. My arrow seems always to lead me to a simple, quiet path where everything takes longer and is just a little less convenient.

There are certainly times that I curse my penchant for homegrown. There were many days I said "never again" as I lugged heavy pails of grain to those pigs. I am planning a post on the actual cost of raising the three pigs and, on paper at least, it was probably not a money-saving venture. The next time we do it (if we do) we will have to butcher pigs ourselves to save on the considerable cost of processing the animals. But, again, these would be skills that allow us to learn and invest ourselves and save money. In a way, jumping in with both feet, or going "whole hog" is the best way to learn every facet of what we are interested in. And we seem to be interested. Learning to slaughter and process our own animals is the next logical step in our progress here. For now, we are just going to enjoy the food and be proud that we did a good job and made it through to the harvest.










Thursday, 17 November 2016

Weekly Column: 30 Minute Meals

30 minute meals

In keeping with last week’s topic, menu-planning for busy weeknights, it is helpful for busy parents to have a back-up plan for when find yourself unprepared. Although a menu-plan will help keep you organized, sometimes you will eat in one meal what you thought could stretch into two…sometimes company drops in, a child is home sick, or you will forget to thaw meat. These things happen. But how can you get everyone fed without resorting to the most expensive alternatives: drive thru or take out?

Stockpile some quick fixes

Whenever you have small portions leftover, consider freezing them for quick weeknight meals. For example, a cup of leftover rice might be frozen then later combined with leftover beans, some seasoning, and reheated to make burritos or enchiladas. Toss together a quick salad and you have created a quick, balanced meal that costs virtually nothing extra. Compare this to a $40-50 take-out meal. If you can reduce the number of times you eat out, you will be doing your budget a real favour.
Some other quick fix ideas include keeping Ziploc bags marked in the freezer for different kids of soups. Rather than throwing out portions of mashed potatoes and vegetables, save them for hearty weeknight soups. Do the same with leftover meat, and be sure to incorporate soups into your regular menu-plan to avoid overwhelming your freezer.

The incredible, edible egg

Breakfast for supper is an affordable option that can be written into a weekly menu-plan, anytime. Even if you haven’t planned on it, breakfast-type meals can bail you out when you find yourself stuck with no supper prepared. Bacon, ham or sausage thaws quickly in the microwave while omelettes can use up odds and ends from the fridge. Pancakes or French toast are ready in minutes and can be served with a dish of fruit for fibre and nutrients. Leftover baked potatoes can be fried with omelette ingredients and topped with cheese all in the same pan for a delicious, low mess pan scrambler. When you find yourself in a rush for food, do a quick survey of what you have on hand and make the effort to feed your family at home.

Wraps, stir fries and buns

If you’ve kept some portions of leftover meat in your freezer you can quickly thaw them in the microwave to use in wraps, sandwiches or stir fries. Cans of ham, chicken, tuna and the like can also be mixed with mayo for a cheap and easy sandwich filling. If you’d rather go meatless, washing and slicing vegetables does not take long and can be done while rice or noodles cook. Quickly sliced French bread or buns baked with sauce, pepperoni and cheese make mini pizza the kids will love. You may prefer a meat and potatoes meal to end your day, but if you are out of time and ideas these options will get you through a hectic evening so you can try to do better tomorrow.

One Dish Wonders

It sure saves time if you can prepare a meal in one pot. If hamburger helper is not your thing, you can improvise with your own pasta creations. As your pasta cooks, add your preferred vegetables to the pot to cook. Drain when the pasta and vegetables are tender. At this point you can add whatever precooked meat, sauce or cheese you have on hand for an incredibly fast meal. The same can be done with rice.

Rely on yourself

There are dozens of other quick meal ideas out there, too many to list. Look online for meals that suit your taste. The point is not to tell people what they should be eating but rather to give them the confidence that they can throw together a meal that is not terribly unhealthy, does not cost much, and does not take much time or effort to prepare.

Everyone has those days where things didn’t go according to plan. Maybe you worked late, the game went into overtime, traffic was bad, you veered from your menu-plan, or the cows got out. The fact is, these things happen. When everyone arrives home, tired and hungry, there needs to be a way to feed them and get them to bed so you can do it all again tomorrow.

By keeping some emergency food on hand (preferably leftovers that might otherwise go to waste) you are enabling yourself to prepare quick meals on the go without ordering in. Some pantry staples like soup and stock, noodles, rice, tomato sauce and pasta will help you through busy evenings. Keep your fridge stocked with basics like eggs, milk, butter and cheese plus your preferred fruit and vegetables.





Keep some essentials on hand so that, even at your busiest, you can eat affordably at home.


Monday, 14 November 2016

Uncertainty

A lot has happened in the last week. In many ways, it doesn't feel like the same world as it was only days ago--but maybe I have changed and the world is the same as it always was. Maybe I just look at it a bit differently now.

A working relationship has turned out to be...not what I expected. Or perhaps my feelings are hurt and I am coming to terms with that happening, at this age, when I didn't know I could still feel so small and young and vulnerable. The relationship will continue, for now at least. It still fulfills a dream. But my eyes are open now, and I will look out for Number One. That said, I am comforted to know that where there is discord there is often growth. What hurts today will give me knowledge and experience tomorrow.

I attended a writer's retreat. I am so very proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and investing in myself. It was an inspiring, emotional and enlightening few days that part of me didn't want to see end. Yes, I missed my family. It was hard to leave. But even as I drove away I knew that it was good for all of us that I give the kids a chance to have time alone with daddy--a "guy's weekend". It was good for them to see (and do) all of the jobs that I carry out in a day to make their lives run smoothly. It was good for them to work together in the yard and go to town and spend every waking minute together.

It was very beneficial for me to retreat from the world for a few days after seeing Trump elected president. I don't want to talk politics here; I am not knowledgeable enough to argue and it's just too raw and personal. It's hard, though, to respect friends and family that can overlook his blatant hatefulness with the rationale that he might somehow help our economy here in Canada. If he doesn't manage to blow the world up first, that is. It's just gross. I can't talk about it.

So the timing of the retreat was perfect, as were the setting and the participants. Our facilitator spoke about uncertainty, both in terms of the election and the world and in terms of our feelings as emerging writers. How not to allow our uncertainty (of our talents and abilities and of where our stories might lead) to hamper our pursuit of the creative life. Our work might not be polished and professional yet, but it is ours and we should embrace that. The writers that I spent the weekend with shared some quotes that helped put all of this into perspective and I thought I would share them here, as well.


The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987

We heard of the death of Leonard Cohen, also, while on retreat. It was an interesting setting in which to contemplate the life and death of someone so masterful at putting feelings and observations into words.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"  --Leonard Cohen


If there is one thing that I have learned it is that I may not be able to control the reality happening around me but I can control my reaction to it. I can combat hate with love, impatience with understanding, fear with tolerance. Although it feels helpless right now, the path to take will reveal itself in time. What I take away from this past week, the good and the bad of it, is that we cannot be comfortable all the time. We won't always have work and life go our way. Plans and elections might go completely south. It is okay to be uncertain, and live in uncertain times. Great action and inspiring
relationships are born out of uncertainty.


"We are prone to fear. The world is a mass of confusion. Traditions are ridiculed. Mythologies are forgotten. True freedom is a curse. Natural disasters are unnaturally common. Celebrities have replaced heroes. Ideals have been replaced by images. Many are running scared and only too willing to embrace the forces that offer a respite from the winds of change. What can we believe in? God, country, ourselves? What can we be certain about? Death, decay, oppression? What are we willing to risk, defend, support and dream? What would we like to be certain of: life span, love life, finances, and security? Can we gain anything without giving something up? Is there faith without risk? If you knew without question what was going to happen next, would there be any real satisfaction in it happening? The greater the risk, the greater the faith. Embracing uncertainty is to say yes to life: to say yes to the death and destruction, the success and failure, the tragedy and the triumph. Lord Byron said that the great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain. The beauty of uncertainty is that it allows us to overcome our fear. It allows us to take risks so we can experience faith. A life without uncertainty is the end of the imagination; the death of the imagined; the negation of faith." -- Brian Hendricks, The Beauty Of Uncertainty 

Monday, 31 October 2016

A Few Random Thoughts

It feels like we have been quite busy. It's odd, because I quite often get a mid summer sense of "what's all the fuss about?" and am lulled into thinking I can handle the workload of an entire acreage, two kids, garden, sheep, chickens and pigs all by myself. This cockiness returns every year, you see, and once I've forgotten the frantic rush to get ready for winter, to bring in wood, put the garden to bed, tidy the garage and clean the house...it becomes February and I feel like there's nothing to do and by spring I am rarin' to go on a new venture or a bigger garden or a new rock wall....well, you see where this is going. Twice a year I fool myself into thinking I can do everything that needs done, and twice a year I fail, then forget, then do it all over again.

This year is different in that I have a 6 year old in school every day. Oh, how this has changed my life! I feel like I can do anything with just one little helper plodding along behind me. It's the lack of fighting, see. With only one boy here during the day he chatters my ear off and it exhausts me, but it is ever so different than listening to kids fight. Oh, so different!

We are out and about more, and this tires me. I have always liked to be alone. So being at the skating rink twice a week and helping at the school once a week has me very much all chatted out. I am also taking in two sweet little boys on a very part time basis! This will give poor little O something to do as he is very lonely without J most days. He's excited, and I'm happy for him. So this also gives us a couple of busy mornings per week and gives me some incentive to be more organized with my time.


The pigs. Oh, the pigs. They are growing nicely but I am the first to admit I didn't realize what I was getting into. I've been working my way through my mom's garden plus a couple aunt's and my neighbours. It all helps so much but three pigs eat. so. much. If you ever consider fattening pigs, arrange to get the wasted food from a bakery, grocery store or restaurant first. If I can ever secure a food source like that I might try pigs again. I plan to leave the pen as-is for future consideration. But I tell you, without a grain bin here and a way to haul and roll my own grain, it has been a lot of work to bring big tubs of grain from my parent's farm and keep these pigs happy. The whole other issue is going to be loading them. I need to build a ramp and the whole thing just stresses me out. My eye has been twitching for a week.

Husband has been away since July and we are all weary of this. Last night J pinned it all on me, and I can actually understand how he might think I am happy daddy is away. For one, I outright refuse to complain that my man is off making oodles of money while the whole area has ground to a halt and families have faced outrageously stressful decisions over the last two years. I try to keep my conversations grateful and optimistic in front of the kids. So maybe from that they are getting the sense that as long as there's money coming in, mom is happy. And in one way that is true, sorry to say. We are quite accustomed to there being a month or two (or three!) every year where there is simply no income. For that reason I am a saver and a planner and every day of work is a blessing that gives us stability.

That said, I am tuckered right out with single parenting and keeping up to the pigs and running the house. I very much need a break. It doesn't help that I now have the cold that my kids suffered with for a week. I am also coming off a more social than usual weekend, so I'm contemplating going and hiding under the bed rather than going door to door tonight asking for treats with my kids. There really are days that I wish I could phone it in. On the other hand, I am being self-indulgent and just wish Husband was here to do some heavy lifting. I know he wishes he was too.

On the bright side, we have been slowly cleaning each room in the house. I feel much better doing it now. I normally leave it until February thinking that it will give me something to do in my least favorite month of the year. But being tasked with one of my least favorite jobs at my least favorite times has not been working out that well. I feel happy seeing neat and tidy rooms (upstairs, at least. Somehow the main floor is getting increasingly cluttered as I clean!) and I know that our busier schedule is going to pull me through the winter months. The other moms at skating are very friendly and welcoming and it is, so far, a refreshing hour for me on both Mondays and Wednesdays. So, it appears, my little family is growing up and we now have to set foot out in the real world. I am doing my best and enjoying it so far. The introvert in me very much needs to regroup quietly, so I am planning that into my week and being as gentle on myself as I can. I had high hopes to clean more house today but it simply wasn't in me. I am getting better at recognizing the need to balance time out with therapeutic writing, sewing or tidying.

I hope everyone is having a lovely fall day. If Halloween is your thing, I hope it's a good one!





Friday, 28 October 2016

Weekly Column: Menu-planning for busy weeknights

Menu-planning for busy weeknights

School’s in. By now parents are adapting to whatever the kids’ new schedules will bring. For many, extra-curricular activities and homework are making weeknight evenings a challenge. Many parents juggle employment with childcare and shuttling kids back and forth to their commitments. It’s no wonder, really, that families don’t have time to eat at home. But who can afford not to, nowadays? Even if you don’t have kids or a hectic schedule, planning your weekly menu can save you time, money and stress while ensuring you eat good healthy meals.

Scheduling ways to eat at home

This might be an opportune time to remind two-parent households that the burden of saving money on food should not fall on one partner alone. One exhausted, overwhelmed, time-challenged adult cannot be expected to turn the kitchen budget around single-handedly. It might work for awhile but, without help from all members of the family, it is sure to slide back into ordering take-out and overspending at the drive thru.

Set yourselves up for success by assigning age-appropriate kitchen chores to every family member. But there’s homework and bedtime, you say? Set a timer and see how many minutes it takes your family to clear the table and do the dishes. Schedule that amount of time into your evening routine every night. Don’t allow anyone TV or screen time until they’ve completed their chores.

Anyone working shifts can tell you how hard it is to maintain consistency. Sit down with your weekly schedule. This schedule should show everyone’s work hours, school and childcare pick-ups and drop offs, sports, activities and other commitments. Let’s hope there is at least one day at home per week for the family. Although you may not want to spend your one quiet day preparing weekly meals, there isn’t a choice if you can’t afford to eat out.

The question is, can you be more organized and cut down on food preparation, spend more time enjoying your family, and save money all at once?

Plan for hell night

Most families have a night (or two) that is busier and more hectic than others. Prepare for this night by cooking double the night before or freezing an entre ahead of time. Breakfast for supper or beans and toast works in a pinch. Cut yourself some slack by keeping a few ready to serve options in the freezer. Although more expensive than cooking from scratch, this is still cheaper than restaurant food.

Batch cook on prep day

Sit down with a grocery store flyer and plan what to buy according to what is on special. Next, consider what meals you can make with that week’s ingredients. Then, do as much to prepare as possible.

Plan around your schedule and use a slow cooker on busy days to arrive home to a prepared meal. Leave yourself a note which day to take out meat to thaw or chop vegetables for the following day. Keep a list and gather frugal recipe ideas. Get creative with tuna. At 88 cents/can on sale, you can save significantly with a casserole and some sandwiches or wraps every week.

Cooking in batches means you might prepare one lasagna and freeze another for later. While you are at it, you could cook extra and freeze some meat sauce to serve on pasta on a busy night. If you are preparing meat for a meal, cook double and have it again tomorrow with different side dishes. A roast might do two meals plus several lunches. Got leftovers? Don’t let them go to waste. Have a weekly fridge clean-out where you make either a casserole or soup with odds and ends that need used up.

Make every move count. If you are chopping vegetables for a salad, rinse and chop double for tomorrow. Do the same for stir fries and steamed veggies. Store chopped vegetables in water to keep them fresh. Don’t add ingredients that will spoil the dish on day two--keep cheese, cucumber, avocado, apple etc separate from your salad so they don’t turn brown or go mushy. Add these when serving so they are fresh and at their best without spoiling the pre-made salad.

Save your sanity

You might think that spending a few hours preparing food on a weekend won’t save you much, but go through last month’s credit card and bank statements. Did you spend much on eating out? Where you eating out because you don’t have time to eat at home? How much money might you have saved by being prepared for the hectic nights you know are coming? Menu-planning allows you to control your budget and hopefully get everyone home eating around the table more often. Give it a try and see how much time and money you can save this winter.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Menu-Plan Series: 2 Hours of Cooking

I have sick kids today and, since I'm preparing for some busy weeknights through the winter, I took the opportunity to cook and freeze some meals ahead.

I started with two 2 lb packages of ground beef. This is meat I receive free from my parent's farm but for the sake of those interested in budgeting, I just checked my local Superstore flyer and lean ground beef is $3.77/lb. So for the purpose of this post I am starting out with 4 lbs of ground beef worth approximately $15.08.

2 lbs each of ground beef

For curiosity's sake, I took note of the time so I could show how long it took for me to cook several meals for my family. I began at 9:40 this morning, intending to bake and freeze 2 lb meatballs and make a lasagna and extra meat sauce to freeze.

On the left, scramble frying hamburger. In the bowl on the right,
preparing to mix up meatballs. It is 9:56.
 In the first 15 minutes I have 2 lbs hamburger fried and ready to be made into a basic meat sauce. I have also assembled what I need to make meatballs and set my kids up working in their little school workbooks at the coffee table. I think by this time O has lost interest and is running head first into the couch.

Fried beef is seasoned with fresh and powdered garlic and  dried oregano.
Meat mixture is ready to be rolled into balls, portioned into burgers or
pressed into a loaf pan for meatloaf. Today I choose meatballs.
Note that the oven is preheating.
 By 10:07 I have mixed up the meatballs with bread crumbs, 2 eggs mixed with onion soup mix, Worcestershire and homemade seasoning salt and a splash of milk.

Meat balls ready for the oven. 
 By 10:19 the meatballs are ready for the oven. My meat sauce will use up one large Ziploc bag of baked tomatoes from my garden. This homemade sauce included zucchini, celery, onion, garlic and peppers from my garden so I did not have to do any chopping of vegetables for today. I am glad to know my kids are getting an extra pop of garden vegetables with out realizing it ;)

Meatballs are in the oven.
To the right of the stove I have reserved a small amount of fried beef to season for taco salads.
Lasagna noodles are cooking and my cottage cheese filling awaits being layered into a lasagna.
 By 10:41 (one hour from when I started) I am assembling a lasagna to freeze and the meatballs are cooking in the oven. The kids have now moved onto the computer where J is working on his school literacy program.

At the last minute, I decide I will reserve some meat sauce to make chili.
 By 11:28, the lasagna is assembled and cooling on the counter along with a portion of taco meat for salads. I have reserved enough straight meat sauce to be served over spaghetti once Husband is home. There will likely be enough for a full supper plus lunch for myself and the kids. The meatballs are baked and cooling. I also have enough chili simmering to feed us two meals (we like it with fresh buns or over fries with cheese on top).

In one hour and 48 minutes, all of this food was prepared, cooked and cooling.
I then sat to have a bowl of chili and play crazy 8's with the kids. 

From top left: meat sauce (2 meals for 3-4 people),
lasagna (1 full meal for 4 plus a bit leftover, I'm guessing), meatballs
portioned into bags (2 meals for me and the kids, one for Husband, the kids and I),
2 full meals of chili,
one small portion of taco meat for a salad for myself and baked tacos for the kids.
 By 12:18 I had the dishes done, tea made and was sitting down to write this post. I am a fairly quick and organized cook as I have been cooking for many years and have always enjoyed it. Some might prepare this number of meals faster, some slower. The main thing is that the food is ready when I need it, as long as I am organized enough to remove it from the freezer the day before or morning of.

Cost Breakdown:
$15.08 meat
$1.50 can of 6 bean medley beans
$1 pork and beans
$1 can of crushed tomatoes
1 large plus 1 small bag homegrown baked tomatoes (priceless!)
$2 cottage cheese (guessing)
.50 cents -2 eggs (free from mom but probably .25 cents each?)
$2 mozzarella cheese (a high estimate)
$1 breadcrumbs and spices

I think I remembered everything I used, for a grand total of $24.08 for what I'm estimating will be 8 meals. This works out to $3.01 per meal for a family of 3 or 4 depending if Husband is home.

Admittedly, you would add a salad or garlic bread, fries or baked potatoes etc to your meals. Some fast options to go with meatballs are rice with roasted vegetables or a pasta with salad. So this would be a couple dollars more for that entire meal. Still...it seems likely that you could serve up a good home cooked meal in 20 minutes for around $6 or less. Compare that to being tired on your way home from work and spending $40-50 on a meal for four that does not even provide leftovers. I prepared 8 meals for under $25 in less than 2 hours this morning.

Now when I do up next week's menu-plan I have some ready-made meals to use on Monday and Wednesday, my busiest evenings. Also, if I run into trouble and need a quick meal at any time I won't give in to the urge to grab something quick for us to eat. Having these meals on hand saves us an incredible amount of money while ensuring we eat healthy even on busy nights.

I hope this example encourages you to give batch-cooking and menu-planning a try!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Weekly Column: Prepare for Christmas Early

There is always a delay of a week or two between my column going to print and me actually posting it here. So there are actually only 9 weeks until Christmas Eve...yikes!!

Prepare for Christmas early

There are less than 3 months until Christmas (don’t shoot the messenger!). If you’re paid weekly, that means you have 11 pay days to set aside money for the biggest holiday of the year. If it’s been a hard year, are you stressed about how you will manage? Do you plan to put it all on your credit card and worry about it in the new year?

Over the last several weeks we’ve been looking at how debilitating credit card debt can be. What you charge now might not be paid off by next Christmas, when it’s time to do it all over again. Isn’t it time to stop the madness?

Consider going gift-free

You are not Ebeneezer Scrooge if you simply can’t do it this year. Let loved ones off the hook if they have been out of work. Tell them you are all grown up and you will take your gift in the form of babysitting, snow shoveling, or a simple meal together with some games and Christmas movies. It’s understandable if you refuse to cancel Christmas on your kids. But maybe it’s time to sit them down and talk about expectations and the reality that you are facing. A simple philosophy is “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read”.

Set new traditions, and be considerate

Every tradition had its start somewhere. Rather than family shopping days, try a family baking day instead. With regards to social media, we’re all familiar with the Facebook pictures of trees almost eclipsed by the stacks of surrounding gifts. What are we trying to show each other? How are kids and families supposed to feel when faced with such extravagance? Take the picture for posterity, by all means, but consider leaving it off social media. Or how about you post pictures of your joy-filled, affordable, bought-and-paid-for Christmas, and invite friends and family to do the same? Christmas is for kids. Let everyone feel theirs was the best one yet and leave the competition out of it. Also, remember you have the ability to take a social media break over the holidays and truly pay attention to your loved ones.


Draw names, set a price limit, donate instead

If you can’t talk the grown-ups out of exchanging gifts, perhaps you can convince them to pick names from a hat, or ask around about other gift exchange ideas. Set an agreed upon price limit and then actually stick to it. Don’t let emotion rule you when you are shopping! Yes, you love your family. The amount you spend has nothing to do with that. So stick to the budget. Maybe you should fund-raise or donate gifts as a family rather than exchanging them. You will soon be hearing ads for local gift drives, and don’t forget the food bank.

Buy your Christmas turkey on sale, now

After Thanksgiving you can quite often find young turkeys for around $10. Unless you expect to get a free turkey with your groceries nearer to Christmas, purchase one on sale now if you can—even if it means storing it in a friend’s deep freeze. This will help your grocery budget come December.

Downsize

If you normally go all-out entertaining during the holiday season, this might be the year you ask guests to bring a potluck item and their own alcohol. Or plan for a card game and drinks after supper rather than feeding everyone. When you are feeding a group, switch to the most in-season (aka affordable) produce you can find. Serve the meat personally to ensure that everyone gets a piece and you don’t run out.

Focus on people and experiences

Often the most special Christmas memories are those of the smallest gifts, the kind gestures, and the time spent together. Go for walks or drive around to see the Christmas lights. Take part in community meals and events. Get in the spirit; it really doesn’t have much to do with the gifts, after all. Welcome into your home a person or family who might be alone this season. Making their day is sure to make yours, as well.

Shop on Boxing Day, instead

While lacking in suspense, doesn’t it make sense to do some of your shopping on blowout sales on Boxing Day? If you can handle the crowds and know that what you want will be on sale, it is an easy way to save some money. Surprise your teen with cash and a day out together, if they wouldn’t be disappointed. Probably, most teenagers would be delighted.


Christmas is a time for giving, yes. But remember to give your time and attention and take the focus off the commercial craziness. Don’t overspend and you might find more joy and less stress this holiday season.