Monday, 29 February 2016

Financial Goals for March

I hope I'm not boring people with my focus on our family budget. At the moment, I am preparing us for the possibility of a loss of income--although it's likely that we would find some sort of income given time--it is also likely that we would not be making as much as usual. It is entirely possible that we might have a length of time with no income, then a reduced income, and need to quickly get used to living on less than we have been.

For all my talk of budgeting and knowing where your money goes, I sat and reviewed our numbers last night and was shocked that our "bare bones" budget (the amount of money we need every month to keep food in bellies and lights on overhead--the essentials only) was frankly much higher than I thought it would be. That is, at first glance, I saw no way that we could reduce our monthly expenses. Considering I sat and did the initial budget in January, it's strange that I still didn't know exactly how much money we spend a month. A few things have changed, though, and I hadn't really done the math on how that affected us. As well, I had not factored in vehicle maintenance, house repairs/maintenance, kids activities, Christmas. Once I did, I found my budget to be grossly out of reach, especially if the worst does happen.

After my initial panic I was able to see the budget more clearly and have found a few ways to cut spending. What's more, I have decided that it works better for me to move specific amounts of money into accounts that are designated for 1) savings/Christmas/pending bills and 2) vehicle maintenance, home repair/maintenance, "slush fund", and kids activities. Once that money disappears from our joint account I will simply have to work with what's leftover. For me, the important thing is getting used to living within reach of our "bare bones" budget so that, if worse comes to worse, we can quickly and easily adapt to the new reality.

What I realize I must change:

  • I am doing well with my $600/month budget for food. However, getting this even lower would be necessary if Husband were out of work for a significant length of time. I am going to try to have a surplus of money leftover in March. (Whatever is not spent on groceries will be moved into Savings fund)
  • I intend to have one month's free groceries/year using air miles reward dollars at Safeway and my PC Plus card at Superstore. I need to be very strategic in using coupons and flyers and planning my stockpile of food. This is a change in philosophy from saving up all the points and using them on "special" groceries at Christmas time. At $600/month I'm spending $7200 a year on food. I used to spend more than that plus spend any extra free points on things like cream cheese, havarti, etc for fancy meals. By budgeting smartly I expect to still afford some Christmas treats and also have a month's free food. So hopefully I will spend around $6,600 on food and eat just as well. It's a challenge that I am oddly excited to begin :)
  • Our power bill is only charged every 3 months. I make monthly payments to that account so that we are never caught with an outrageous bill we weren't expecting. But I need to sit and figure out an "average" monthly amount for power so that I know I am budgeting enough. Ditto with natural gas.
  • Buy greater quantities of pet food when it is on sale.

What I am not changing...yet:

  • Husband has a Sirius Satellite Radio. He basically listens to it all day and he is in vehicles/equipment almost non-stop on 11 and 12 hour workdays. It is a last resort to take this away from him, but at $20/month we are realizing that it is a luxury that could be cut if need be--particularly if he was no longer working as much. I have also discovered that I can reduce that cost by about $5/month and I plan to do so soon.
  • I cut my cell phone plan by $21/month awhile back. This could be cut further and probably in the summer when our contract is up I will shop around a hopefully save even more.
  • We were in a situation where we basically had to get a new truck for Husband for work. We knew it was a poor time to do so, but being broke down in the winter or even having an unreliable vehicle at work is stressful. We are now deciding if we will sell the old truck, or my car, or keep both and only insure the old truck when we need it...obviously in a pinch we could sell one. For now we are keeping both car and truck insured for driving but we need to make a decision soon. 
My Goals for March:

  • Write ourselves each a cheque and deposit them into each of our personal accounts (the plan is to do this every month--March will be my first). As I mentioned above, one account will be Savings (Christmas, land taxes, a few bills that are coming at us soon), the other will be vehicle and home maintenance/repair fund, kids activities fund, "slush fund".
    • create a spreadsheet for each of these accounts keeping track of how much money belongs to each designated fund and recording any transactions.
    • Into the kids' activities fund I will transfer their Christmas money from Grandparents in Newfoundland. We usually save the money for something big for them so this year it might be a camping trip. Likewise, birthday money from my mom is always spent on swimming lessons, and their other birthday and Christmas money goes into their own bank accounts. Once the kids activities fund gets to a certain amount I plan to make a lump transfer to each of their RESPs. 
  • Repay money from vacation fund that we have "borrowed". The cash from our bottle/can recycling, along with other bits of cash that we end up with, are stashed in an envelope waiting for a summer trip of some kind. Twice now I've taken money from it when I needed cash so need to put $40 back!
  • Register the kids for swimming lessons at the pool.
  • Continue to bake all of our bread, buns and sweets.
  • Continue to put $5/week into the egg jar.
  • Continue to explore ways to make money myself, without incurring childcare costs.

It is my absolute goal right now to begin saving one year's expenses in case Husband is out of work. I realize now that we should have had that saved all along. We are doing well and with all my extra cuts I hope that in March we can set aside a month's expenses while also doing the transfers I have spoken of. This is the new game plan for 2016--for every dollar earned I need to save 50 cents!  

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Quinoa and Cilantro Patties

I realize I've been going hard posting about frugality and spending these days :) As a change of pace I thought I'd do a quick pop in with a yummy (and frugal) treat I made myself today. Last night I had quinoa and roasted vegetables with some meatballs that I had pre-made and frozen. I made about 2 cups of quinoa with the plan that I could use it in my cauliflower pizza crust tonight and some quinoa patties that I like.


approz 1 cup cooked quinoa
1 egg
2 Tbsp chopped spinach (I used frozen and made sure to squeeze excess moisture from the spinach before adding)
2 Tbsp chopped onion (optional)
1 tsp cumin (optional)

Mix your ingredients together while 1 Tbsp olive oil heats in a frying pan. Form "patties" with your mixture and fry carefully once the pan is hot. You may want to use 2 flippers to ensure they don't come apart when you turn them, although mine held together well.

I made the most delicious hot pepper chutney with my excess peppers this past fall. It is spicy hot and so, so good. Husband and I love hot food, though, and it is not for the faint of heart. I chopped cilantro (another favorite of ours) and had the patties with cilantro, hot pepper chutney and some greek yogurt to temper the heat. So delish!  I tend to forget about cooking quinoa but I do enjoy eating it from time to time. Do you like quinoa? What is your favorite way to eat it?

Friday, 26 February 2016

How We Saved Money Feb 21-27, and February's Spending Recap

The past week had its highs and lows as far as household spending goes. My 6 year old is getting long legged and although we do get hand-me-downs, boys wear out pants and there aren't as many intact pairs to hand down! So while in town to buy groceries I was also on a mission to find him some jogging pants for school (he has plenty of jeans that fit but prefers softer clothes so I like to have a couple pairs of each). Since I was nearby I stopped into a children's clothing store and was happy to see "40-60% off Storewide" signs in the window. There was only one pair of jogging pants in his size and they were regular $24 but marked 30% off (it just occurred to me that I should have asked why they were only marked 30% off when the signs said 40%. Oh well!). By my math that still puts the pants at about $17. I hesitated and then put them back, and did not stop to look at the younger sized clothes that were marked $3.99. O has plenty of hand-me-downs and I didn't want to be tempted into buying things that aren't needed. On my way out of town I swung in to the Second Hand Store and found a pair of 7/8 jogging pants and also got a 9/10 for future. They were $1.50 each. I also found a Leap Reader video for $2. Although it wasn't on my list, my kids love these videos and they really do help kids learn to read. I didn't feel bad spending that $2! So altogether I spent $5 rather than $17, but the pants were too big so it will be a few months before he actually wears them. I will continue to watch the thrift stores.

I made it to Husband's bank to deposit money, then did an online transfer into his Tax Free Savings Account. These are things that I put off doing and then we don't end up saving the money. However, I find that once the money is out of our general accounts we "forget" about it and are less likely to feel small events are emergencies that warrant the hassle of withdrawing (something I tend to do when I just keep it in the savings account). Small strategies to actually save.

Husband has been away working most of February so I anticipated coming in below budget this month--and I would have had I not chosen to stockpile a bit of food that was on special. I came in $6.39 over my $600/month kitchen budget. There were also some realities that skew my monthly results but should average out over the year. As I've mentioned, we get free beef from my parents so this month very little was spent on meat. At the same time, I bought 4 AAA batteries at the grocery store for about $9, something I should have been proactive about watching for on sale and having a coupon ready. More was spent on health and beauty this month as I bought Husband razors and Epsom Salts for my dad. I bought things like plastic food wrap (a huge $10 roll), lightbulbs and stamps--rarely purchased but necessary nonetheless and all of this combined is an inedible addition of almost $70 to the month's grocery spending. It isn't hard to see how such expenditures can derail a budget when money is very tight.

Some stockpiled soup, coffee, vinegar, and the edge of a bag of flour--all purchased on special.
Keeping this shelf stocked prevents my paying full price for items we use regularly.

I left pet food for next month but now run the risk of running out of cat food before I get to town. Happily, the cats seem to like the dog food so I am crushing it a bit and mixing it with theirs to get us through. When I added my last grocery receipt to my spreadsheet I was stunned to see that a bag of grapes cost almost $11! I think I was more surprised at myself for not weighing the bag than I was at the price. Rookie mistake!

Another mistake on the bill (whether mine or the store's) was that when I purchased 2 packages of bacon I thought it was marked $4/pkg. I see now that I was charged over $13 for the two! Had I noticed that at the check out I would have put the bacon back. I simply don't buy it unless it is on special. This oversight is a combination of having a child "helping", bagging my own groceries, and also forgetting to watch the prices as they cross the screen. Normally I catch many mistakes simply by watching the prices as things are scanned, and I don't like shopping where it isn't visible to the customer. Lesson learned: check my receipt before leaving the till. In the past I have caught overcharges upwards of $20, so it is a good habit to have.

The last of my notes for February includes my continued commitment to support the Food Bank with every grocery shop. Most years I get generous at Christmas and then forget about it. But for the past several months I've watched for good specials and purchase a few dollars worth of food every week. When we forget to pick something out, my kids and I realize at the bin by the door and take something that we like out of our own food and donate it. I don't think the Food Bank can fix what is wrong (right now, or in general) but there is a lesson in this for my kids. I want them to be grateful for our good fortune, and realize that our security comes as a result of planning and budgeting with a whole lot of hard work and luck thrown in for good measure.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Where to Start Part II

When Income Decreases, Spending Must Follow

Another of my weekly columns. This was sent in before I received so many wonderful suggestions and comments on Part I. Thanks to those who gave feedback both through the blog and in person. I am still processing and ruminating and will be working on follow up columns soon. For now, here are some more ideas to help families dealing with or preparing for a loss of income. 

Has your income decreased or are you preparing for the worst? Here are some ideas to control your monthly spending.

1.       Reduce Grocery Spending
Food is getting more expensive, but it is possible to spend less at the grocery store. Consider this: the less processed or packaged the food is, the cheaper it will be. For example, small, cute, kid-sized portions are double (or triple) the cost (think cheese strings, juice boxes, yogurt). Consider buying the 650g container of yogurt and sending it to school in a reusable dish with lid and spoon (better for the environment anyway). Follow the Canada Food Guide’s recommended portions and send a piece of cheese cut from the larger, less expensive block that you already have in the fridge. You can do the same with apple sauce, fruit salad, almost anything. If it comes in little packages you are probably paying extra. Save money by buying larger amounts and portioning them out yourself. Still using that single-serve coffee pot? Compare the cost of a can of coffee to your favorite pods. Might be time to get a reusable filter or dig out the old drip coffee maker. When shopping for food, consider how “convenience” costs extra. Can you save by doing some of the work yourself?


2.       Use A Rewards Card and In-Store Coupons
Most stores and credit card companies use a rewards system of some kind nowadays (think Airmiles, PC Plus, Shopper’s Optimum, etc). If you already shop there (or use the credit card) sign up for the points/miles/cash back options available to you. Collect the points, miles or stamps and redeem what is coming to you. If it is not something you want, donate or sell it. It takes minimal effort to “load the offers” or check for coupons as you shop. Many grocery stores give coupons for gas—ask for more details. A few cents off per litre adds up when money is tight. If the money was laying on the ground, would you pick it up? Keep track of how much less you are spending and put that money towards your highest interest rate (see #4).

3.       Pay in Cash (Envelope System)
If you are a fan of Gail Vaz Oxlade (and you should be) then you already know about the cash envelope (or jar) system that she recommends. Basically, you take out the amount of money that you will need for the month’s expenses and keep it in the designated jar. Once you are out of money you must stop spending—an effective tool but it does require will-power. If you can physically see the money leaving the jars it helps curb over-spending. Consider whether this might be a system that would work for you/ your family. Read more at Gail’s website or sites like (language warning on that one!). Find a system that you are comfortable with and get started.

4.       STOP Making Minimum Payments
If you have reduced your monthly spending and see a bit of cash leftover, don’t rush out and spend money as a reward. Try to put as much extra money as possible towards your highest interest rate. Every little bit helps over time. When you finally pay that off, tackle the next payment in the same way. Talk to someone about consolidating your debt--cut up your cards. Do whatever you have to do to crush your credit card debt. Everyone’s situation is different so take a long hard look at your payments and debts and take action of some kind as soon as possible. If you are caught up in a cycle of not making your payments, you should consult professional advice. The longer you leave it the more stressful it will be.

5.       Talk About Spending Less Money
“Keeping up” with the neighbours can be tempting if you see them continue to vacation and shop as though their situation has not changed. Perhaps their situation hasn’t changed; perhaps they had saved a lot or were gifted money or perhaps they are in over their heads but don’t know where to start. You can’t know what is going on in another household but it’s time to figure out what’s going on in yours. Be the first to talk about it and give yourself, your friends and your family permission to admit that change is needed. Share what you are doing to spend less. Your ideas might help someone and their ideas might help you. If you are invited out but it interferes with your budget and goals, explain why you can’t make it. Visit at home. Enjoy potluck suppers and coffee at the kitchen table. Be the first in your circle to turn over a frugal new leaf. Chances are those close to you will be relieved that you did!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Batch Cooking, and Some Social Media Excitement

I feel like I've pulled out of the February doldrums that seem to catch up to me every year. I managed to get my baking done on Monday in spite of a crushing lethargy. Yesterday, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to get at 'er. Today, middle of the road after the dog barked from 4 in the morning until Gawd Knows When. I don't know why I don't just get up and get busy when my sleep is interrupted. At any rate, a slow start but I have not been deterred from "My List".

I wanted to get some frozen meals in the freezer--some for Husband who is working away from home right now but has the facilities to reheat home-cooked meals. I have also had a hankering for cabbage rolls of late--I confess I actually bought two batches at $9.99 each earlier this winter. I just don't seem to roll them right :(  Properly rolled or not, there are now two pans of cabbage rolls ready for my freezer.

O turns 4 on March 7th. I am planning another sliding party (if we still have snow) with a wiener roast  for the kids and chili and buns for the grown ups. Since he is not in school he just wants to invite his little buddy that we have play dates with, and I will ask a few family friends if they can come. If everyone's schedules co-ordinate we should be able to have some fresh air and fun outside. On a different day I plan lasagna, homemade bread and salads with my family (and of course cake and ice cream for both parties). Today I made the chili and lasagna to freeze, and portioned out some for Husband to take back to work with him. I find that doing the cakes and probably bread and buns as well as getting the house organized is enough to tackle for birthdays. Having a good portion of the food ready ahead will really help out.

While I was busy in the kitchen this morning a friend texted a "screen shot" of some pins that were on Pinterest under my name. These were fairly risque photography poses, as in sans clothes and very suggestive and sexual in nature!!! I near fainted in me cabbage. I only use my first name and first 3 letters of my last name, which another person with the same name has done as well but in ALL CAPS. There was a flurry of text messaging and a quick tutorial on "how to change your name on Pinterest". That other Jill sure does like to have fun, but I wonder if she has stocked her freezer with cabbage rolls and the like? At any rate, there's been a name change and friends on Pinterest will have to make do with the usual homesteading, thrifty and gardening type Pins for which I am known. That is unless they've dumped me for the more adventurous gal by the same name ;)

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Where To Start

I've spoke just a bit about how the local economy has been affected by the drop in the price of oil. It's not about whether oil is good or bad--my focus is just on what is happening to families that have had job losses with no warning or severance. Other families have seen their income dwindle as a result of their normal customers moving away/losing their jobs. What about the families now on unemployment? Their income has been cut in half. I will not sit in judgement and say that people should have been preparing...I consider myself "frugal" and a "saver" and I realize now that we are not actually prepared if my Husband is out of work for a significant length of time. I thought I would put together a few links and some "where to start" strategies for a generation of people that have really never had to, nor been taught to, limit their spending.

If you're new to this blog, I am not a financial expert. I am a stay at home mom that doesn't like to feel stressed about money. I want to retire and travel with my Husband. I feel that by living simply now we will benefit in the long-term. It does not bother me to delay gratification by saving for what we want. Sometimes we find we didn't really want that "thing" that we thought would make us so happy. A few years ago we almost spent several thousand dollars finishing the ceiling in our basement. Our thought was "it will be a pain to do the ceiling in a few years when the basement is full of furniture". But guess what? It was going to be over $6000 and I said no. Let's not spend that money. We don't notice that the ceiling is unfinished. We also don't have baseboards down there. And we are still alive. Our family is healthy. The world has continued to turn. We will probably never finish the ceiling and that is okay, we are hardly ever down there and we can live on that money instead. You don't always need all the things that you think you do! If you are interested in how we have become more motivated to save and reduce our spending, here are some past posts that might inspire you:

Below is a column that I wrote recently. Some of it is repeats what I have written before. Much of it I have read and been inspired by on other blogs and in books. I am writing primarily for people that have not saved much, had the belief that they had job and income security, and are now unsure what to do and don't know where to start. I've given 5 places to start, and yes, Pru, if you're reading this--I was thinking of your blog when I wrote #2!

Get Control of Your Household Spending

Has your income been affected by the drop in oil prices? Are you suddenly on a fixed/reduced income and were you used to spending your money however you wanted when times were good? You are not alone. Perhaps you have begun to reduce your monthly spending; if so, congratulations on taking action. If you do not know where to start, then I hope the strategies in this bi-weekly column will help you take control of your situation and give you some peace of mind. None of these ideas are new—writers like Gail Vaz-Oxlade and David Chilton (The Wealthy Barber) have been teaching most of them for years. But reality is setting in and for many of us it is time to learn to budget and get control of our household finances.

1.       Become A Conscious Spender: Know Where Your Money Goes

Recording every single cent that you spend in a month is essential to you understanding where your money goes. Every trip through a drive through, every scheduled bill payment, every $5 bill sent to school with a child should be recorded and, at the end of the month, documented in some sort of a file.  It can be as simple as keeping a scrap paper to record cash transactions and going through all your bank/credit cards at the end of the month. You might make a spreadsheet or do an online budget (try Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s Interactive Budget Worksheet found on her website Whatever you do, get your spouse/partner/family on board with this assignment. You cannot tighten your budget until you know exactly where the money is going. This exercise alone will make you more aware of your spending.

2.       Become a Prudent Spender: If It Isn’t Essential, Don’t Buy It

 Once you have established where your money goes every month, you should be able to see where cuts can be made. What are your essential family needs, and what can you cut or delay spending on? Being prudent means being very choosy about where you spend. The question to ask yourself is: am I paying someone to do the things that I could be doing for myself? Can I find this item used or wait for a sale? Can I eliminate/cut back spending on treats and luxuries?

3.       Have “No Spend Days”

Begin by having one or two days a week where you spend no money. Pack a drink and a snack to resist the drive-thru. Make coffee at home. Use what you have—use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without! Avoid going to the places where you might spend money (that includes online shopping). Invite friends over rather than going out. Eat and drink what you have on hand. Chances are that you have things at the back of the cupboard or freezer. Use them up! Take advantage of the “free” events and facilities in the community. Enjoy the mild weather by walking, catch the public skating at one of the rinks, play shinny in your driveway, take your children or yourself to the library or borrow some movies from a friend. Get used to having fun that doesn’t cost you anything. Check your local paper or town website for free local activities.

4.       Shop Around for Insurance

It is a no-brainer that shopping around can save you hundreds of dollars; insurance is no different. Talk to your current provider about how your needs might be changing. Can you get by with one vehicle nowadays and reduce the coverage on your second vehicle? Do you still need the package policy? By no means should you ever allow your insurance to lapse. But there might be a better deal out there. That said, I also think it is important to reward the small businesses that have worked hard to protect you in the past. If it is possible to support a locally owned business, please do so.

5.       Examine Fees, Charges, Plans and Packages

How much are you spending on bank and credit card fees? Have you tried to reduce them? Have a look at your “plans” and “packages”. Can you reduce your cell phone bill? Ditch the house phone altogether? Are you still paying for cable or satellite TV even though you are finding it hard to make ends meet? Have you thought about reducing to Netflix or a similar type service instead? Are you aware that “pick and pay” satellite TV starts March 1st? Although your provider is not likely to advertise it, you will now be able to select the channels you want without paying for bundles and channels that you don’t watch. Make some calls and see how you can save.

I will be writing similar columns in the future--I'd love some feedback on what your advice would be to young families facing a loss of employment. Can you offer ideas or share what you have done to cut back spending?
Image from Pinterest

Saturday, 20 February 2016

How We Saved Money February 14-20, 2016

How can a week have gone by already?

This week I had my 2007 car taken in and checked over. I had a "feeling" something wasn't right and we spent about $900 on a few fixes--most importantly a tie rod end that was shot. Because the tie rod ends affect steering I just feel lucky to have gotten the car looked at in time, avoiding an accident or any injury. In that sense the $900 spent saved us possible stress and heartache or being stranded in cold conditions, any number of grim possibilities. Having the unforeseen expense reminded me how important it is to keep vehicle repairs and maintenance in your budget. Truthfully, the car has never cost much besides insurance, fuel, oil changes and tires, so over the 9 years that I've owned it I haven't really factored it into my budget. Had I been putting, say, $30/month aside for repairs over the last 9 years I would have had the money for this repair saved even after buying tires and doing maintenance. We are lucky to have had the free cash, but it is a learning lesson for me to not take a reliable vehicle for granted. Even if the cash had never been needed it could go towards a down payment on a new vehicle when the time comes. Something for me to think about!

I took my boys in to have their eyes checked (free for kids here in Saskatchewan, probably all of Canada I'm not sure). They both have 20/20 vision so that was nice to hear. While at the eye doctor we walked to the nearest grocery store rather than drive (while my car was being worked on I was driving the old truck that we have. It's not like it's huge but I am more accustomed to a small car!). The store we walked to is so much more expensive than where we usually shop; it was lazy of me not to go back and get the truck and drive to the usual store. But alas, we bought pepperoni and cheese for a pizza party with friends, Greek yogurt which was reduced, and a 2 lb bag of clementines for $2.99. The total came to $22.50--this is probably what I would have spent at my regular store except that I would have ended up with almost double the amount of pepperoni and cheese for that price. Impulsively I redeemed $20 worth of free groceries because I have started collecting reward dollars rather than miles with my Air Miles card. I am not considering this a savings because I plan to save up the reward dollars and do a huge stockpile shop when things are on a great discount. I am not sure why I even redeemed the dollars except that I was giddy with having the option--must show more restraint! At any rate, it was $20 less out-of-pocket and we had a lovely visit and pizza with friends yesterday.

Husband brought me a wee bouquet of Gerber daisies and carnations on Valentine's Day. He knows I have a rather tainted view of made-up Hallmark occasions but he feels it is important to acknowledge the day. I appreciate the colours and the thought behind the flowers (forgot to get a nice picture before they wilted and got all splotchy!) and, frankly, I appreciate that he didn't cave to the pressure to go for red roses or a florist's bouquet. Am I that frugal that I just can't see the sense in in blowing $125 plus on flowers? I am just as happy with a potted rosemary or better yet with a few hours to write or read in peace. I remember Husband coming home with a $70  (!) tiny bowl of tulips for me one Valentine's. To be honest, and I wouldn't want this to hurt his feelings, it annoyed me to no end that so much money was spent on something that doesn't even register on my scale of important things. But two people in the flower shop knew us and he said he didn't want to appear to "cheap out" once he was in there LOL. It really highlights how easy it is to fall into "keeping up with the Jones's". Anyway, not meant to be a rant about Valentine's Day. If that's your thing, fill yer boots. Me, I'd rather have someone do the dishes for me ;)

Wherever you are, I hope you are having a restful weekend. I'm off for a walk in the snow :)


Saturday, 13 February 2016

How We Saved Money February 7-13, 2016

It is nice to be almost halfway through February. The days are noticeably longer (that was for you, K!) and on sunny days I am full of motivation to get my house cleaned and ready for another busy year. But on gray dreary days with cold and wind, my energy is low and my patience is thin. Finally after years of struggling through these ups and downs I realize that it never lasts. The sun comes out. The mundane tasks do get completed and winter eventually ends.

If I didn't keep a little list by my computer keeping track of how I've saved money this week I think I would feel like we didn't save at all. But we did, and here's how:

  • I returned a light fixture for our shed that the electrician didn't need (we got power to our shed and barn by digging in the wire ourselves before the ground froze). I had to get a different light, so returning one for $18.89 cash back and then spending $27 isn't really a savings. But it would have been easy to neglect returning the light so I'm still considering a way that I didn't "waste" money by being lazy!
  • We sold our camper! In itself, this was not exactly a savings except that we haven't used it as much the past few years and it was depreciating quickly as it got older. I would prefer to tent with the kids to have a more authentic camping experience, and the cash is better off in the bank rather than parked in the driveway. Where I feel we actually save is in the $70 insurance we were paying every month. When I called to cancel it I also realized that all these years we were paying for a full replacement rather than the depreciated value. I guess that is a choice but we could have spent a lot less on insuring it if we had known the difference. So we now have $70 less/month going to insurance, which suits me fine!
  • I didn't have plans to go to town until Friday, which was also my son's Valentine's Day party at school (I forgot to buy little Valentine's for him to exchange with his friends when I last got groceries). Rather than running to town for anything, I used craft materials that we had here and cut out hearts for him to glue to paper etc. He spent hours carefully gluing and writing (he's a bit of a perfectionist) and it actually kept him quite occupied over two days. We made sugar cookies and decorated with icing and sprinkles and he had a fantastic Valentine's at school without us spending any extra.
  • Most importantly of all, I have taken some money from our joint account and returned it to my Tax-Free Savings Account. Over the years we have used my investments here and there when things were tight. But when things were not tight we neglected to ever pay them back. The recent crisis in our economy gave me a real fright and I couldn't believe that despite my frugal tendencies I had not been topping up and saving more. When Husband is home from work he will also be depositing a lump sum that I can transfer into Tax-Free Savings for him. Our income can vary greatly from one month to the next, so I like the fact that we can use that money in an emergency without being penalized.
  • I got a wee side job that I can do from home! It is very wee, so I am contributing the proceeds monthly to the above TFSA. We won't miss the money because we've not been used to having it, and it's not an amount that would help in a crisis. But if it is stashed away for long enough it will come in handy someday. If I am able to make extra with this side job I plan to let it accumulate and throw those extra amounts onto our mortgage. I don't want to schedule anything extra because I don't want to "have" to have the extra every month. But when it is there and it feels safe to do so, the plan is to put extra bits on the mortgage and save on interest in the long term. 
I have always felt that household spending was the only area of our budget that I could control or change. But I realize now that my efforts are wasted unless I actually "do" something with the money saved. Until now, when I reduced spending on groceries or clothes the money still just trickled away, whether on fees or insurance or TV plans or extra trips to town (or fabric, or crafts, or antiques, or....). as I manage to lower some costs in some areas I am trying to invest and "pay down" in others. That is how I can control both our household expenses and our long-term savings. I have been reading Gail Vaz-Oxlade's Money Rules: Rule Your Money or Your Money Will Rule You. I skimmed through it because we are already doing most of what she talks about. But there were some areas that we have never talked about, mainly, what age do we plan to retire and how do we intend to get there? Not by mindlessly spending almost every pay cheque, that's for sure! And not on $100/month automatic transfers. We need to get more specific and start working towards our financial goals.

Next on my reading list is Gail's Debt-Free Forever. If you've never checked out her Interactive Budget and you haven't figured out your monthly expenses (or don't know where to start) sit down and go through her website. She is no-nonsense, humorous, and puts things in terms even I can understand. If you are trying to get control of your money these are great places to start (and no, I'm not being paid to say that!). It feels good to take action. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Meaning Over Approval

I have had a couple of opportunities come my way of late. One has come to be and another remains to be seen. Now that reality has set in and I have a side gig that will make me just a bit of money that will slowly become a small emergency fund I find myself nervous and plagued by self-doubt. This opportunity is one that, at one time, was a dream of mine. It feels right to move forward in this area and see what comes of it. But in the back of my mind is the voice, that voice--you know the one--the voice that whispers in my ear but what will people think? what if you are thought a fool? what if someone disagrees with you? what if they don't like you? what if they can see that you are unsure of yourself? what if you are wrong?

Have you ever heard this voice? The voice inside you that holds you back and prevents you from taking a chance? I have been out of the (paid) workforce for almost 4 years. I spend the majority of my time with people that fight over who gets the blue cup. I am seriously starting to freak myself out.

But I am not going to back down from a new challenge in my life. I've had my sleepless nights and I've thought non-stop about the worst-case-scenarios. Time and time again when I worry about what direction to take in life, I return to the words of Dan at Do I wish for meaningful experiences in my life, or do I seek the approval of others? Sometimes we are lucky enough to have both, and that is great. But other times you need to make a choice. Allowing yourself to be held back by what others might think or expect of you is a pity. Especially when you are holding back from doing something that matters to you. Sometimes you should do the thing that brings you closer to who you want to be, your potential self, and do it for reasons that matter to you. I always wanted to write. My granny gave me boxes of harlequin romances when I was growing up. I believe I wrote my first by the age of 13 (it remains unpublished lol!) I went to University with the vague idea that if I studied writers I would become one. Path led to path which led to a different path which led me to this moment where I have an opportunity to write. for. money.

It's not much money. And I've been writing it here for free. You see, it's about frugality, and how you can have a simple, happy life that doesn't have to cost much. In fact, it's ever so much more rewarding when you do it without spending much. It's hard to admit that I want to write though. I've spent the last 38 years of my life dodging the ridicule of 4 brothers. What will they think of my writing? What will others say? I read a good quote the other day although I've forgotten who said it: don't worry about what others think of you--they are all worrying about themselves just like you are". I certainly hope that is true.

But I met a lovely lady who is writing a book and I got to read it and I loved it. In reading it I reached out to other writer-friends and it reminded me that I once thought that I would write. I once felt it in my bones. And then an opportunity came up and I raised my hand and I've been called upon and now it is time for me to put up or shut up. I'll keep you posted on how things go.

I don't know if this opportunity will last a long time but it has opened a forgotten door. I am remembering old interests and realizing that perhaps I can have everything I ever wanted: my lovely family and a simple quiet life in the country where my people humour all my homesteading endeavours. The time to put out my thoughts to a small but encouraging group in this space. And a little bit of money made doing something I was doing anyways. To turn back now would be to let approval win the day, and I am too old to let that happen. The chance might not come along again.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Three Years of Blogging

Three years ago I began this blog. We lived in a small town 100 kms from here and everything that we have and are doing now was just a dream. At that time it was hard to get anywhere. My youngest cried in the vehicle--every moment that he spent in a vehicle--and it was a 45 minute drive for groceries or one hour to get to my parent's farm. He also made strange to everybody...especially my mom, the only person that had ever watched my kids for me besides their dad. Life felt frantic and messy and beyond my control. A big part of the decision to move was the little boy that could not be comforted in the car. I had to move closer to my people. I owe him one.

This is O--he can fall asleep anywhere :)

I am so glad that we took the plunge and decided to build our acreage sooner than planned. For a time we gave up and decided to just move to "town". My mom sensed that and encouraged us to build the acreage. I'm glad she did, so, so glad. I knew the life I wanted and how I wanted to raise my kids. Although I suppose we could have done it anywhere, we are home now and there is an indescribable peace to knowing that you are exactly where you should be, doing what you were meant to do.

I think that blogging about our lives here is a contradiction. I am intensely private and an introvert. Let's call me quirky. But as I've gotten older I've come to embrace my own quirks. For some reason it feels safe to share our adventures here in this space, although I've opted not to join Facebook, Twitter, Google plus and the like. I am not interested in creating a public persona or trying to maintain it. This is it. This is us. I have made wonderful, meaningful connections through my blog and the blogs of others. I've learned and I've grown. I've wasted a LOT of time swiping on my phone and at times it has been a challenge to cut back and stick to the most positive and helpful. The desire to spend my time on positive, nourishing relationships extends from the real, everyday, to the virtual online community. If you have hung around here reading my thoughts, I am so humbled and thankful. If you've taken anything positive with you then I am so very glad. We are keeping it simple around here. We are trying not to be wasteful, aiming for self-sufficiency though we can never get there. We rely on friends and family and they rely on us. I guess "efficiency" is where we are headed. Thank you for being a part of that and giving me a little of your time :)

Friday, 5 February 2016

How We Saved Money Jan 31-Feb 06

I have already written about my savings on groceries this week. Using in-store coupons, a rewards card, and buying multiples of items that were on special saved me around $39 that I can think of off the top of my head. Had my kids not noticed that the coupons they took from the coupon wall matched the razors I bought for Husband, we would have paid the full price (even though neither of them can read. What brilliant kids!).  Had I made several smaller trips to the grocery store I would not have spent the required $250 that got me $20 off my future groceries. Had I not stockpiled coffee (for a savings of $16) I would also not have made the limit. This is one instance where spending more saved us money. I am very grateful that we have money to spare so that I can save by stockpiling. When, out of necessity, you must buy smaller portions you are usually paying a higher price and are unable to wait for the specials. It is a vicious cycle to be in.

Image Credit: Pinterest

I also saved money this week by going to my bank to cancel the over-draft protection fee I was being charged, and the life insurance that I had on my account. We have life insurance now and that account is barely ever used. Even though money rarely goes into it, I was losing an extra $10/month in fees for things I didn't want or need. I hate to say how long I have known about these fees--over a year I am sure. So that's $100 at least I could have saved by being more proactive. I was unable to cancel the fees online, and it is hard to get everywhere I want to go in town with the kids along. That said, I have had plenty of days alone in town where I simply forgot or ran out of time. When I went in to do it I was very impressed that they reimbursed me $60 for the overdraft protection without my even asking. I had to call an 800 number to cancel the life insurance but I actually remembered. So in addition to saving $10/week from now on I also have an extra $60 for emergencies, for a total of $70 saved at the bank this week!

Just to pat myself on the back, I tallied up the monthly costs that I was able to eliminate in the last few weeks (these are not one-off savings but rather monthly charges that I was able to reduce or eliminate).

  • cancelled an insurance policy, dropped cell phone bill: $66/mo
  • put satellite TV on seasonal break: $75/mo
  • cancelled overdraft protection and an unneeded life insurance fee: $10/mo
Feel free to double check my math, folks, but by my calculations that is an annual savings of $1812.00, all achieved in less than a few hours and with minimal inconvenience. That is more than an extra mortgage payment that we were allowing to go down the drain. If at all possible, I would like to make a prepayment of $1812.00 on our mortgage this year. Just for giggles I looked it up on my mortgage calculator: a prepayment in that amount would pay off our mortgage 7 weeks faster. We would save $133 in interest this period, but over the entire remaining amortization period we would save $1199.10 in interest--all with money that was being frittered away here and there without our ever realizing it. Doesn't it make sense to patch the holes if your boat is leaking?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

February 1 Grocery Shop

I made it!

I had promised myself that I would not give in and go get groceries until February. We ran out of a few things, and yet we survived. I borrowed a pound of butter from my mom (have since returned it) and she gave us some cauliflower. I'll get her something back eventually. We ran out of cream for coffee, which neither Husband nor I like to have happen. We like the 18% coffee cream and it is one of the few things we don't want to compromise on. But as it ran low I added some milk to the jug to help it stretch and we only had one morning of imperfect coffee :)

Speaking of coffee, it was on for $9.98, down from $13.98 per 930 g can. There was a limit of 4 cans per customer so I bought 4. Yes, I spent $40 on coffee this week, but if I was to wait until I was out of coffee and just buy them full price one at a time, it would have been $16 more. Also, I spent the required amount to receive $20 free groceries (which brings my 2016 tally of free groceries up to $40). I plan to use the free groceries if we are ever in a pinch or save them for special groceries at Christmas.

My February totals are going to show a skewed total for cleaning supplies. I bought 3 sets of tinfoil pans and filed them under cleaning since they are not food. That brought my cleaning total up by $11 which will seem like a lot spent on cleaning supplies when I am already fairly well stocked. The happy reason for the disposable pans is a new baby in the family :) I have a darling baby nephew now and I've been cooking up meals to send down to the new parents. Another purchase was a gift pack of razors with shaving gel for Husband. Usually his razors are about $20 for replacement cartridges (yikes!) but this pack had a new razor with 3 cartridges and a shaving gel for $20 and the kids had actually picked up a $3 coupon for it without my knowing it. They are becoming little frugal shoppers already ;)

I spent $271.59 on groceries on February 1st. I am more confident now that I can keep to my goal of $600/month (or less). The breakdown is as follows:

Cleaning: $32.67
Dry Goods: 138.47 (includes stockpile of coffee, bag of flour)
Produce: $28.33 (prices seem to be settling down)
Meat: $5 (we were given some beef by my parents so I only bought a $5 pack of sandwich meat)
Dairy: $44.86 (I got 2 800g blocks of cheese as they were on for $7.98 instead of $9.48. This cheese should last us most of the month. Although I do love me a cheesy casserole :-]
Health: $16.98 (razors)
Garden: (a new category!) $5.28 for seeds as I am attempting to sprout spinach and lettuce and bring down my produce spending :)

I feel so much more in control of my kitchen budget now that I am in the habit of checking the weekly flyers and coupon board at the store, menu-planning to ensure that I do not waste what I have purchased, and doing without the items that I would ordinarily go to town for and inevitably buy more than I had planned. Although I have almost spent the budget for the month, I have a good supply of rice, pasta, my own potatoes, and there is plenty of meat in the freezer. Most of what gets spent now will go towards fresh produce and dairy so I may possibly make it to the end of the shortest month with a bit of money leftover :)