Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Weekly Column: Does the Internet Cost You Money?

Does the Internet make you spend more?

The Internet has become a part of everyday life—it has streamlined the sending and receiving of information and enabled people to conduct most of their business without ever leaving their home or office. While that may be convenient and, in many ways, save us time and money, we are also becoming conditioned to want what we want right now. There has also never been so much to choose from. Whether we realize it or not, our Internet habits expose us to blatant and subliminal advertising almost continually, every day.

How do you use social media?

You might use your Facebook account primarily to keep in touch with friends and family, and you may be satisfied with the amount of time you spend there. But did you know that many people admit to checking Facebook on their phones everyday before they get out of bed? Even if you only seek updates from friends and family, you are still exposed to their possessions, activities and lifestyles. For those who tend to splurge on things they see online, this is a continuous stream of temptation everyday. That is hard for even the most frugal to resist.

Promoting your personal brand

More and more, people associate their personality and identity with the image they project online. Sites like Pinterest allow the user to create boards that display their interests and tastes. You may learn a lot about hobbies, skills and personal development but have you noticed that these types of social networks are becoming more and more laden with sponsored pins? And that most of the content is posted by bloggers and companies that direct you back to their site where you can become a subscriber (and thus subject to the advertising embedded there) or, better yet, a consumer of whatever they are selling? Companies are counting on you to “save” or “like” their pins which, in turn, promotes their product to more and more people on the site. While you scroll through those pictures of beautiful home décor and DIY projects, you are actually browsing through one advertisement after another. Although you may not immediately buy what you find on sites like Pinterest, it puts an image of what you want in your mind and may contribute to an overall sense of needing and wanting new things to make you happy.

Following trends is costly

Do you follow celebrities on Twitter? Do you feel the need to update your wardrobe/home décor/vehicle/garden as quickly as you can find the Next Big Thing online? Staying on top of current fads is a costly venture if a person has had a reduced income for some time. The more a person exposes themselves to consumer culture and opportunities to shop, the harder it will be to resist making non-essential purchases. You may have stopped going on shopping trips to the city but if you are still overspending online, or shopping for what you see on social media, your budget is no better off for your efforts.

To each their own

If you can handle looking at new gadgets and pretty things online without buying them and you enjoy the experience, have at it. But if your internet habits leave you feeling dissatisfied with what you have, perhaps it is time to question why that is. Perhaps it is time for a digital diet. Disable notifications, unsubscribe from flyers and newsletters or, better yet, take some time away from your social networks and see if you feel more contented with what you have. Fill those hours you spent online with something that brings you pleasure but doesn’t cost money.

Use the Internet wisely

You might argue that there are many ways your apps and social media save you money, and you may be right. Used properly, store apps, online classifieds and garage sale groups and the like can save you time and dollars. But if you are spending beyond your budget, you should question your impulse to buy no matter what it is that you shop for. No matter how affordable something is it isn’t a good deal unless you actually need it.  

Social media has transformed our lives for better or worse. People update their status throughout the day to let their acquaintances know every minute detail of their lives. We see inside the homes and vacations of people we barely know. This can lead to comparisons, feelings of inadequacy and the desire to keep up with the neighbours. The control of those emotions lies in the hands, or mouse, of the beholder. If your Internet habits cost you money and steal your joy, log off or take a break. Remove some apps from your phone. You will be surprised to see that world keeps spinning without them.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Weekly Column: Volunteering is Cheaper Than Therapy

Volunteering: it’s cheaper than therapy

When people sit down to consider how they can cut back on their spending it is usually obvious that shopping trips, vacations, new toys for the kids (and the parents) need to be cut back. Perhaps rather than a warm winter vacation you are seeing the local sights this year. Maybe you are making do in a tent although you have had your eye on a new camper. Maybe you have even given up some of your more expensive pastimes and sold some of your extra things to generate a bit more money. You’re doing what you have to do to get by, but is a constant sense of austerity truly sustainable?

Most people would admit they get a rush from spending money--if not the actual act of spending it, then from the new, exciting things they have just purchased. Whether it is a new truck on display in the driveway or some new clothes hanging in the closet, it is natural to feel happy and proud of what you have worked to buy yourself. The trouble is, the new wears off and you are left looking for that happy, positive feeling and may not know how to find it without spending more money. It can become a vicious cycle that spirals into debt, guilt, anxiety and stress. So how do you get off the spending treadmill?

It's not the spending that makes you feel good

 Having new things might impress the neighbours and will definitely look good on your Facebook page, but if you have cut back your lifestyle you may be left feeling like you make sacrifice after sacrifice with no relief. But this is simply not the truth. Rather than searching outwardly for material things that make you feel inspired and rewarded, perhaps it is time to look within for something that gives you satisfaction and joy that money cannot buy.

In stressful times, there is nothing worse than feeling isolated and alone in your struggles. But one needn’t look far in today’s world to see others in a far worse situation. Becoming a volunteer is a way to get to know like-minded people and feel a part of the community. There are a number of ways to get involved that needn’t cost you much money. If you have time to spare maybe filling it with a volunteer position would help fight the urge to spend money and replace the rush you get from new things with one that is free, long-lasting and maintainable.

So many ways to help

What are your interests outside of work? Are you good at organizing? Have you always wanted to teach? Are you an avid outdoorsman or woman? Are you handy with a hammer? Explore how your interests can lead you to an organization that needs your talents. Whether it is Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Ducks Unlimited, The SPCA, The United Way, Special Olympics, tutoring literacy or English as a second language—the list of volunteer opportunities in the area goes on and on. Most organizations require a police record check and some paper work but the process is worth it. 

Understandably, donations from big oil companies are lagging this year so many groups are getting creative to fund the projects in their communities. Although money might be tight there is no reason why community spirit should be in short supply. There is a good chance that getting involved in a cause that you believe in will benefit you as much as it benefits those you are setting out to help.

Do what works for you

Volunteering needn’t be organized and your commitment can be as much or as little as suits you. Finding a meaningful pastime that doesn’t cost you money can be as simple as visiting at a retirement home, checking in on an elderly or house-bound neighbour, or babysitting for a busy family. Feeling like you have stepped in to help someone who needed it will give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of spending can imitate.

From consumerism to volunteerism

Creating a frugal lifestyle is much the same as a diet: you are no further ahead if cutting back for awhile results in a binge of spending and so-called rewards for your efforts. Just like with food, you need to replace your old habits with new, healthy ones. Having new things can be exciting and make everyone happy, at least in the short term. But rather than looking to consumerism to give your life joy and meaning, maybe it’s time to take the focus off ourselves and see how much better we feel when we are part of a larger, community-minded group. Ask around and check out local websites to find the opportunity that works for you.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Weekly Column: Foraging and Perennial Food

Foraging and Perennial Food

One aspect of budgeting that people might not consider is how much they spend entertaining themselves during their free time. Although having frugal pastimes might not appear to save a lot of money, the savings multiplies when this pastime replaces one that was more expensive.

Consider this: a weekend off, the kids are bored…shall you take them to a movie and spend roughly $50 on tickets and treats? Or how about going for a drive and picking berries, stopping for a picnic and a swim at a lake somewhere along the way? Now you have gone from a costly, sedentary day spent in air-conditioning to a day of fresh air and exercise with quality family time and healthy, free food thrown in for good measure. You have not only replaced the $50 movie experience but probably saved yourself a few bucks on berries when you next get groceries.

Of course, if one is to go berry picking you must know what you are looking for, and where to go. Perhaps you have a neighbour or friend that can give directions or tag along for the day. Sites such as are great for identifying edible plants, berries and mushrooms by province. Beware foraging for mushrooms—it is advised to only gather mushrooms with an experienced guide as many varieties look similar and some are deadly poisonous.

Be safe and courteous

Please don’t forget that when you pull off the road to pick berries in the ditch, you may be near someone’s home. You would probably frown on a stranger stopping to pick the fruit off the trees in your yard. Take only what you will actually use and leave some for the next family. Remember that someone owns the land, whether crop or pasture, and be respectful. Whatever wrappers and trash you bring with you should be taken home and disposed of properly. And lastly, don’t forget that out in the country we share our terrain with bears and other wild animals. Keep an eye on the kids and remember, bears like saskatoons too!

Perennial food

Even if you aren’t interested in being a full time gardener, you might consider adding some perennials (plants that come back year after year) to your yard that can provide some early spring nutrition for your family. When you consider the cost of treats like asparagus, strawberries and raspberries at the grocery store it makes growing your own a lot more appealing. There are even grapevines that can overwinter here! With a little mulch and compost, an area dedicated to perennial food can offer your family great health benefits for many years to come.

Most people are aware that berries such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries (all of which are hardy in this gardening zone) are extremely nutritious. But don’t forget rhubarb, commonly found in farmyards around the area. Rhubarb is said to aid in weight loss, improve digestion, stimulate bone growth, and increase circulation, among many other health benefits ( If that makes you want to rush out and buy a rhubarb plant, ask around. It is much cheaper to dig up a portion of someone’s existing plant. If you are unfamiliar with rhubarb, try substituting rhubarb mixed with strawberries or other fruit in many of your favorite dessert recipes such as apple crisp.

Fruit trees

More and more varieties of fruit trees are available that can survive and bear fruit in our climate. Although it might seem like a long time to wait, planting a fruit tree or two is very rewarding when you are finally able to walk into your own back yard and enjoy the fruit that you’ve grown yourself. Whether it is apples, pears, cherries or plums, you can find the right tree at a local greenhouse along with more information on how to care for it. Be sure to ask if two trees are needed for pollination.

Preserve your harvest

If you are successful at berry picking and growing some perennial food, you will quickly find yourself with a surplus of perishables that can be frozen, dried, pickled or made into jams, jellies, desserts or canned to be enjoyed later. Learning to preserve and bake are new hobbies that will also save you money down the road.

It is a fact that many families are cutting back on their spending. Including foraged or homegrown food in your diet is a simple change that can benefit your family in many ways beyond saving money. Being busy outdoors, spending time together instead of money, is a great way to spend lazy summer days. When you substitute frugal hobbies and pastimes for costlier ones, you are learning new things while also reducing your spending. Putting great food on the table has never sounded better or more affordable. 

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Weekly Column: Waste Not, Want Not

Waste Not, Want Not: Reducing Your Kitchen Waste

Everyone knows the cost of food is continually rising, to the point that nutritious food is unaffordable for many families. Given the cost, it is very disappointing to find that your dairy and produce have spoiled before you have a chance to eat it. Luckily, there are many ways to ensure the food you have worked hard to purchase gets eaten rather than wasted.

                Use a menu-plan

A menu-plan can be as simple as jotting down the meals you expect to have on certain days each week—it needn’t take long to write and does not have to be strictly adhered to. The idea is that you plan your meals according to what you have on hand and foresee busy days where you might be short on time. A menu-plan allows you to prepare some food ahead because you have tomorrow’s meals anticipated, and also reminds you to use up what you have available. Take stock of what needs used and plan your meals accordingly to get the most out of your kitchen budget.

                Freeze it before it spoils

Did you know that you can freeze milk and thaw it (slowly) when needed? A 4 litre jug is usually the most economically priced, but if it is too much for your family consider freezing the excess in freezer-safe containers to save money. The same goes for meat trimmings, bones and vegetable scraps. Freeze gravy drippings and roast remnants for a quick meal of soup, and keep a bag in your freezer for onion, carrot and potato peels, celery ends and other vegetables that can boiled into broth then discarded. It may take some organization on your part, but you will appreciate having a meal or two per week that is essentially free. If you are travelling, freeze what you have to avoid coming home to a rank fridge and wasted food. 

                Uses for sour milk

If you find that your milk has begun to sour, you might consider using it in buns, bread or cake rather than tossing it out. Lightly soured milk creates a leavening effect and results in fluffier baking—the heat of the oven takes care of any bacteria that might exist. Please note, however, that milk that has soured in the fridge is safe to use but it is not recommended to use milk that has been left in the sun or that has spoiled to the point of chunkiness. If you find yourself with whipping cream that needs used up, you might consider making your own butter. All that you need is a mixer and some time—a simple google search will find you numerous recipes. A litre of whipping cream should give you almost a pound of butter with the added bonus of a cup or two of buttermilk that can be substituted for milk in almost any recipe. How is that for making great use of something that might otherwise have been thrown out? Get the kids involved and talk about reducing waste in your home.

                Start to compost

Sending yard and food scraps to the landfill creates methane and wastes what could be turned into valuable compost. 

While some cities can accept household waste that you cannot compost yourself (meat and dairy, pet waste and cat litter should NOT be deposited in your backyard composter because your compost will not reach a sufficient heat to kill all pathogens), you might still consider building or buying a composter in which to create your own nutrient rich compost from yard and vegetable scraps. Ask around and see if friends or neighbours have composting worms. Vermicomposting is becoming more common in schools and is a great way to get the kids excited about science, composting and gardening.

Reducing what gets wasted and discarded is a huge part of reducing one’s budget. If you are struggling to keep healthy food on the table, it has never been more important to get every penny out of your purchased or homegrown food. By planning and making an effort, you can divert your groceries from going from the store to the fridge to the landfill. You might find that you spend less and eat better. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

Are You Sure Martha Done It This Way

Maybe it is this time of year, as the garden explodes and we attempt to make magical summertime memories for our kids at lakes and fairs and parades, but something about July always leaves me rocking wide-eyed in the corner with my arms wrapped tightly around myself.

Oh, at the beginning of the month I have a plan. I have THE plan. My weeds are mostly under control, thoughts of mulch and bountiful harvests dance through my head and I plot inviting the neighbours, all of them, to BBQ and bask in the beautiful space that is this yard.

Then somehow, every July, there is a flurry of travel and cabins and camping and laundry (oh! the laundry!) and when I glance back to the yard, the garden, the rugs, the wind is knocked from me as the reality of all that I have to get done once again takes me completely by surprise.

We have had approximately 7 inches of rain this month. This is unheard of on the prairies. I am a farmer's daughter and I will refrain from complaining about the rains that just keep on coming but

as thunderheads gather every evening I do feel a curl of hysteria rise in my chest and I have been seen lately sitting at the window with a maniacal smile pointing to the garden that is now completely overgrown with vegetation (both the wanted and unwanted types) and I wonder when, if ever, I shall get the time and a break from the rain to get control of my yard and life.

 I am hosting 4 extra boys for a day and night on Wednesday (do wish me luck that there are no broken bones) and next week we start a week of swimming lessons which will invariably bring an ear infection to my poor 6 year old who is plagued by them.

I am so lucky, so very lucky, to know myself well enough to know when I must, must have a break. It came today, when Husband drove company back to the airport and my sons went to gramma's for a sleepover. After two weeks of company and a flurry of travelling and sight seeing, tonight I got to pull weeds for an hour uninterrupted by rain or kids. And I realize how cathartic my garden is, even as it's riotous growth makes me a bit squirrely with to-do lists. My garden is a reprieve from people, noise, expectations, obligations, appearances, extravagances. My garden just is, and I need that. A lot.

Not every mom has to get home to feed the pigs or can't go on a hot vacation because it is lambing time. These are choices that I have made, and all for the right reasons. It isn't always convenient to have animals and live tied to a piece of land. I realize that I am much more Waylon than I could ever be Martha, and I am so, so okay with that.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Weekly Column: It Takes Money To Save Money

It Takes Money to Save Money

Any one living paycheque to paycheque understands how groceries and household items cost more when money is extremely tight. If you are waiting for payday to purchase things you need, you likely cannot wait, once you have the money, for a better price to come along. When you buy larger quantities it usually costs you less per unit—a good example is toilet paper. Having only enough money every week for 4 rolls prevents you from cashing in on the monthly sale of a 24 pack which would give you considerable savings/roll. Having a bit of extra money in the bank allows you the luxury of buying multiple items when they are on special. So how can a family dig itself out of the cycle of paying full price for small quantities? How can you get a bit ahead so that you, too, can buy what you need on sale and have more money leftover?

Keep Track of Grocery Spending

It cannot be overstated that if you do not know what you normally spend, you are powerless to reduce your budget. For one month, keep your receipts for every food/grocery/household related cost. Include toiletries, cleaning supplies, beauty products, take-out, dry food and produce. At the end of the month you should have an idea of what your monthly costs are and where, if at all, you can trim your spending. Go through the house and collect what can be used up: do not buy a cleaner that you prefer to use if you already have something that will do the job. Vinegar and baking soda will tackle most cleaning tasks—your goal here is to reduce spending somewhere so that you have a bit of wiggle room in your budget to take advantage of bulk prices and sales.

You Only Think It Can’t Be Done

If you’re talking budgets with friends nowadays, and most people are, there is inevitably someone who says “we gave up because nothing we tried worked”. It is absolutely true that cutting spending and living on a reduced income can be defeating. But knowing where your money is going is very empowering if you give it a chance. Cut the cable bill, reduce your cell package, return your recycling. Free up some money, wherever possible, and use the amount you have saved to stock up on your most needed household items when they come on sale (this may be meat, canned or dry goods, coffee, toilet paper or other necessities that you will end up paying full price for). If you do not already collect points or use your grocery store rewards system, start now. When you have collected enough miles or points, spend them on necessities that you find on sale. Your goal is to stock your pantry with healthy, low cost food and household supplies. Once you have a stockpile of provisions, watch sales to maintain your stash and put the rest of the money you are saving against your highest payment or bill.

Re-evaluate Your “Needs”

 Do you have certain brand names that you are committed to paying for? Are you reluctant to let go of the satellite/cable TV? Challenge yourself for one month and see how you feel without those things you feel that you cannot do without. Skip the drive thru and take your own coffee. Change your routine and keep track of how much money you save. Again, dedicate this money to stocking your fridge and freezer.

Make Space for a Stockpile

Some items you should commit to never paying full price for are: meat, toilet paper, coffee, condiments, canned goods, flour and baking supplies, cleaning supplies and the list goes on. You may need to declutter a closet once you are able to buy some items in bulk. If you eat meat, you will want to rotate the meat in your freezer to keep the oldest being constantly used up. You may even want to hunt kijiji, yard sales, or watch flyers, for a deep freeze. Once you have the ability to purchase meat and vegetables in bulk you will see a drastic reduction in what you are forced to buy for full price.

One Day at a Time

When more money is being spent than is being collected, a person has two options: reduce what you spend or increase what you earn. Jobs are scarce and the cost of living is high, so it is no wonder that people feel overwhelmed and like they lost before they got started. But if you dedicate one month to evaluating your spending you might be surprised at how much you can trim and put towards a well stocked home. Every bit of progress you make on your budget is a step towards financial stability.