Thursday, 18 August 2016

Don't Kiss Your Chickens, Do Kill Your Darlings

It's been hard to write an original post lately. I put up my weekly columns mostly to keep some traffic happening on the site. But I've realized what keeps me from posting is that I had begun a post about the ridiculous advice I heard on the radio the other day "Don't kiss your chickens". The advice is good--the need for it is ridiculous. I wanted to draw the correlation between a society that puts Donald Trump in a race to be leader of the free world and a society that now sews diapers so that chickens can come right in the house, and where people actually need told not to kiss their birds. Because that will make you sick, you see.

And the post wasn't working out very well; it wasn't witty and I don't understand the American system well enough to preach about it here and, frankly, who cares what I think about Donald Trump and chicken kissers.

But it did get me thinking abut the writing process. I've committed to writing more. Writing daily. I want to take myself on a writer's retreat next year for my 40th birthday and I want to have a few pieces that are worth working on with focus. I finally realize that when I am hung up on a concept I just have to let it go and keep on writing. I've been writing in the evenings even though I know that, so far, none of it is very good. But I have to keep trying so that (hopefully) soon something decent crosses the page that I can delve into and turn into something real.

Rather than treating every idea like it must be "the one" and then panic when it turns out to be nothing, I'm trying to exercise my skills and use some prompts and practice making stories come to life. And I'm trying to stay calm that, so far, inspiration is nil. But like trying to sort out a blog post that wasn't working, sometimes it's best to just get on with it and let those darlings die so you can move forward. So that's what I'm doing :)

How is everything with you?

Weekly Column: Outfitting Kids for School

Dress for Success: Outfitting Kids on a Budget

Although parents may not want to think about it, back to school is just around the corner. Putting off getting prepared, as in most things, might end up costing you extra money. The time to start watching for sales on clothing is now. But where to look?

Take Inventory

Go through your children’s closets. What do you need for shoes, boots and winter clothing? Do they need a few new things to spruce up their back-to-school wardrobe? Try to purchase a size up to account for sudden growth spurts. Make a list of what you are watching for and stick to your list.

Shop off-season

Just as your kids are busy wearing out their swim trunks, shorts and flip flops, stores are beginning to clear out their summer stock. Now is the time to watch for next year’s sizes at a reduced price. Yes, money is tight and you need to gear up for school. But you will be buying these things next year—don’t wait and pay full price if you can help it. Similarly, watch for winter boots and snow suits if you have no alternative but to purchase new. But remember, you must only buy what is needed.

Online, New and Used

There are great clearance deals to be found online. Factor in the cost of shipping, though, and consider if it is really saving you money. Could you support a locally owned business instead? If your budget is tight this year, use great discretion when shopping online. Wait a day before going through the virtual check out. You may find you are not as impulsive after a good night’s sleep.

Are you fortunate enough to be offered hand-me-down clothing for your kids? Have you shied away from accepting in the past? Look at it this way: most clothing is made in poor countries with dismal working conditions. But when you buy or accept used clothing you reduce the demand for more of it to be produced. You also delay that item being taken to a landfill. Sort through hand-me-downs; keep what you can use and either donate or give away what you can’t. If you have invested a bit more money in some items for your children, you might want to list them on kijiji or have a garage sale of your own to get some money back. Feel good that you are passing on some savings to another family while saving a bit for yourself.

Are your children fashion divas? This is an excellent opportunity to teach them about the value of money. If they insist on the brand name ball cap and shoes, let them see how much money there is per child for clothing this year. Allow them to help decide how that money will be allocated. Allow the child to perform extra chores and try to find a compromise between new and used that works for everyone.

Thrift stores, garage sales and second hand sites

For those not blessed with a large extended family or friends with older children, there are still many ways to save on kids’ clothes. Local thrifts stores like For the Interval Store, LABIS Second Chance Clothing and The Olive Branch all donate the proceeds of their sales to great local causes. You might need to keep checking back to find what you are looking for, but you are likely to save a bundle. The same can be said for cruising garage sales and online sites like kijiji or different Facebook groups.

How much is enough?

Having less money is stressful but it gives everyone a reason to examine their priorities. How much do we really need to be happy? How much, realistically, should we spend on clothes for our kids? If they are warm enough, clean, well fed and loved, are those brand name clothes going to make them better people?

Downsizing the budget for kids clothing doesn’t reflect on your parenting. Having a couple outfits for school and a set of play clothes to change into afterwards teaches kids routine, responsibility, and respect for their belongings. If kids learn to fold their once-worn clothing and put it away for tomorrow, parents might spend less time doing laundry—an added benefit. Is it really that radical to suggest that we buy our kids clothes only when they actually need something? Ask yourself this: would you rather your kids have designer name brand clothing now, or an education savings plan later? Is keeping name brand clothing on their backs threatening the roof over their heads? Having your children dressed stylishly in stain-free, good quality clothing can be done on a tight budget if are always watching for great deals. The more effort you put in, the more you will save.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Weekly Column: Convenience Costs

Convenience Costs

It seems that people are living at a faster pace these days. An interesting question might be: what came first, the hectic pace or the drive thru? Did we begin cramming more activities into our everyday lives and thus require a faster way to pump food into our bodies, or did the availability of cheap food-on-the-fly allow us more time for the things we want to do? While picking up take-out and hitting a drive thru have become a daily or weekly ritual for some, hopefully we can all remember a time when that wasn’t the case.

If fast food wasn’t an option

Imagine for a moment that grabbing supper on your way home was not an option. Or, if the only alternative to cooking was a sit-down restaurant meal that took an hour or more to prepare. Would it be more convenient to eat at home? If fast, ready to eat food did not exist would you make any changes to your schedule? Would you cut out a few activities that right now seem essential, or would you put more effort into preparing for the week?

Of course, fast food is here to stay and, likely, so is the busy lifestyle that most people have adopted. It is not easy to work all day, pick kids up from school or day care or sports and arrive home to a whole new set of chores and demands. If there is an evening every week where you work late, the kids have activities, or you have plans of your own, how do you prepare for this?

Beat the temptation to order in by cooking double batches and freezing portions for busy evenings. Thaw your supper while you are out, then reheat it when you arrive. But your kids are starving animals after sports? Let them eat some of their daily recommended servings of fruit and vegetables (which you prepared yourself, earlier) while they wait. Better yet, distract them with a few chores while supper cooks.

But what to make?

Mixing up a few pounds of hamburger does not take long and can yield several meals: freeze meatloaf and meat balls for later and BBQ some homemade hamburgers for a treat. While you are doing that you could also brown some hamburger to use in chili, lasagna, shepherd’s pie or other casseroles.

But meat is expensive, you say? Yes, it is. But if your back up plan to feed your family when you are tired is hitting the drive thru, you have probably become accustomed to spending around $40 per meal for a family of four. That $40 could feed your family home cooked meals for several days if you are organized and plan ahead. Saving $20-30 on a meal is like putting in more time at work—except that you can “earn” yourself that money from the comfort of home.

Fast meals like bacon and eggs, beans and toast or soup and sandwiches are no less healthy than drive thru. If you would rather some vegetarian options, or if going meatless is something you are interested in trying, there have never been more recipe ideas online. Start looking!

There must be a healthier way

If someone told you they could feed your family healthier food for a fraction of the cost, would you be interested? If they said that a time commitment of a couple hours per week would make you healthier, save money and possibly bring you closer as a family, could you find the time? Cooking at home is not necessarily a family activity but you can involve the kids by having them chop or wash veggies, set and clear the table, or even help with the cooking if they are old enough. When all members of a family are going in different directions it can be hard to connect with each other. Committing to eating together at a table as often as possible is good for your relationships as well as your budget.

It’s not a step back in time

It is no one particular member of the family’s responsibility to prepare the food. If you can eat you need to learn to feed yourself. If you are a parent and have your kids in activities to strengthen their bodies and people skills, consider this another opportunity for their growth. Teach them the difference in value (both nutritional and monetary) between a fast food meal and one you prepare and eat together. If you seriously do not have the time, ever, to prepare food for the work week it may be time to re-examine your schedule and priorities. There may be times you need a fast meal on the go, but hopefully you can find a way to slow down and eat at home more often.