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.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Menu-Plan Series: Quick Emergency Meals

Okay, so you wrote the plan and a few days into the week something derailed and you don't have your meat thawed, you didn't pre-make your soup or salad, and you are itching to dial in a pizza. Who can blame you? If they delivered pizza to the boonies you can bet I would give in to temptation a lot more.

The inability to order in food has really helped me be more organized and has also prompted me to have a go-to list of meals that can be made in a rush. Anyone that has tried to cook a meal with two hungry toddlers wailing in the background can understand the urgency to get food on the table quick. Here are some of my favorite fast-food-from-home options:

1. Pancakes and bacon, or any variation of breakfast for supper.

Pancakes from scratch takes literally 5 minutes to make. I suppose that can be improved upon by keeping a pancake batter mix on hand, but if I need it in faster than 5 minutes I'm in trouble.

Pancakes

1 cup all purpose flour
1tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

mix dry ingredients in large measuring cup. Beat one egg separately, then add along with 1 cup milk.

Whisk together your batter until all flour is moistened and the largest lumps are incorporated. It does not need to be smooth. Allow your griddle or pan to heat on medium-high to the point that water "dances" when a few drops are tossed on the surface. At this point I turn it down to medium to avoid smoking us out of the house.

Use a scant bit of oil or cooking spray for your first pan of pancakes. After the first round, your pan should be hot enough and the cakes should flip nicely. This recipe makes about 6 medium sized pancakes for my kids, usually leaving one or two to freeze for a quick breakfast. Most often, I double the batch so I have more to freeze. To use later I just thaw each pancake individually in the microwave and then toast so it's nice and fresh seeming. You can add banana or blueberries, saskatoons, etc to your batter as desired.

Other breakfast for supper ideas are: toast and eggs, hashbrowns, sausage and eggs, and as Pru suggested in a previous post, omelettes are great for cleaning out the fridge too. Obviously you want to round out a hasty meal like this with some fruit or a vegetable. You might not want to be throwing down bacon for supper all the time but it does get you out of a pinch when needed. The key is to have some of these things stashed in the freezer when needed!

2. Sausage and Perogies

Both of these cook fast and it always seems like a lot more planning went into the meal than actually did. Serve with peas or a can of corn, a bagged salad, a bit of greek yogurt and green onion. So yummy and ready in less that 30 minutes!

3. Tacos

The beauty of ground meat is that you can thaw it as it cooks. Ideally, you would always have things thawed and yada-yada, but that quite often doesn't happen and tacos have bailed me out of a pinch many times. I get the kids busy tidying the porches or getting into their pjs and while the meat cooks I chop the salad and vegetables, grate cheese etc.

4. Chicken breast and....anything

Chicken cooks quite fast. So don't microwave it for too long or you will have a raw, rubber, overcooked mess. But a minute or so on each side and then chopped up and thrown into a pan will get you started on a fast meal. If you are going with pasta or rice, be sure to start your water boiling while the meat is in the microwave. Microwave some veggies or throw them in as the meat is almost cooked. Add sauce and heat through or serve as is, making sure of course that everything is thoroughly cooked.

5. Stir-fry

Prepare basically as above. You can purchase a stir-fry sauce to add as everything is cooked or make your own with some soya sauce, hoisin or other flavorful sauce, a bit of water or chicken stock, corn starch to thicken. Do some googling to find a recipe you like that can be made with on-hand ingredients in a pinch.

6. Bags of cooked shrimp, canned meat, sandwiches, soup or beans and toast

Shrimp thaws and cooks super fast if you like it. I can quickly throw it in a stir-fry or some pasta and we love it. Sandwhiches: self-explanatory! Soup or beans is not my favorite for supper but it sure beats going to bed hungry! I don't fall back on this option because my kids won't eat it, but if it works for you--great!.

7. Shop Your Freezer

You should know by that morning if you are flaking out on your menu-plan. Don't be discouraged! I do it all the time! There is not usually a week goes by where I don't divert from the plan in one way or another. Sometimes we eat more than I expected and we are a meal short. Sometimes I just plain drop the ball. No worries. I make double and keep frozen meals just for these occasions. I am also not the least bit ashamed to admit that I keep a bag of fries and chicken nuggets on hand for nights that have just seriously fallen apart. It happens. I can fix myself something out of whatever this around and the kids are over the moon with this once in awhile treat. Add some veggies and a smoothy and I'm sure they will live til morning. The key, here, is to decide in the morning that you need to use your backup inventory and take it out to thaw. If you take out a frozen meatloaf and attempt to bake it for supper you will be eating it for breakfast. But if you have things ready for the oven when you get home you have a much better chance of averting a hunger-induced meltdown.


 8. If all else fails, go as healthy and as cheap as you can!

No one wants to eat quick, emergency food all the time but I do believe we all run into those instances where we are tempted to go easy (and expensive) when we are in a rush. I am not recommending this food as ultra-healthy but only making suggestions to get you through busy times in as healthy and affordable a way possible.

If you absolutely must pick up a meal on your way home from work, ripping into the grocery store for a ready made chicken and salad will cost a fraction of what a pizza or chinese, etc will cost. Be wary though! I brought home a lovely cobb salad (that cost $9!) from the grocery store and the eggs on it were mouldy. Super not impressed. Because we are out in the country I didn't return the salad, and only got an answering machine when I called the store about it. So try to get as fresh as you can, and good luck!


Monday, 17 October 2016

Menu-Plan Series: Writing the Plan

I have a reader request to do a few menu-plan ideas for busy weeknight schedules. The reality for many people is they are arriving home from work at meal time with kids in evening activities and no time to cook. So while in an ideal world there would be an adult home to prepare at least a few of these meal ideas fresh, I am planning a week's menu under the assumption that there is only one day to prepare most of what will be consumed.

Step One: Consult Your Grocery Flyer
Why not save as much as you can? I quickly browsed through my Superstore flyer online as though I would be shopping today for the week's groceries. (We are in a total ice storm at the moment so mama ain't going anywhere. But we can pretend!) The goal is to plan this week's meals around what is on special. I found:


  • pork loins $1.87/lb (limit 4). This is a good price so I would buy 4.
  • imperfect apples $5 for 8 lb bag. Compare at $5 for a 3 lb bag regular apples. Bring on the worm holes, people!
  • beef roast $4/lb. This might seem costly. But compare to salmon at $12/lb or tilapia at $8/lb, or steak at $10/lb.
  • bagels 2 bags of 6 for $3.
  • PC frozen vegetables $2.50/bag.
Other things I would normally buy or have on hand is basmati rice, generic pasta, potatoes, fridge stocked with celery, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli along with fruit. If any of these are on special I buy extra. Likewise, if anything is suddenly too expensive we get more of something else and do without what has spiked in price. I can't stress it enough how you save by knowing the usual price of things!

As meat eaters I would also purchase lean ground beef and chicken legs or boneless thighs. These are generally the least costly cut of chicken but I do splurge on a box of frozen chicken breasts from time to time as well as bulk packaged wings. You will note that I buy most things in large quantities. I have a freezer and keep it stocked with frozen things I buy on special. We save a lot by purchasing ahead.

I am a fan of chickpeas instead of meat. I also use quinoa quite a bit but I'm thinking at the moment it is more expensive than steak. Feel free to substitute into the plan whatever you have on hand or is on special in your neighborhood. I apologize for the meat laden plan. If you can help me out with some vegetarian ideas please do! I will note in red what I will be doing each morning or evening to prepare food for the following day. Because I am a morning person I prefer to get up before the kids and do some prep work for the day. That way I know it is done in case I am too tired that night. For you night owls, it might be just as good to plan to do some precooking in the evenings while you do your nightly routines.

lasagna and chili, pre-made and ready for the freezer. Because they start out with the same basic
ingredients, these meals are ideal for preparation in a "batch" 
Step Two: Write the Plan

I will provide you with my schedule for the week and the pretend meals that I have come up with. You will need to tweak this according to your own needs but it is mainly to illustrate how to keep on top of meal prep during a hectic schedule.

  • Sunday: PREP DAY
On Sundays or Mondays I usually do all my baking for the week and freeze it. You might rather put that time towards preparing meals. It may not be on Sunday, but you get the drift! 

If I was expecting a rushed Monday and Tuesday evening, I would divide my beef roast in 1/3 for stirfry (which I would slice and dice and put in a marinade in a bowl for Monday's quick supper. It is also an option to cook Monday's rice and eat some of it on Sunday with beans or curry. Leave the remaining 2/3 roast thawed to go in slow cooker or oven on Tuesday.

On a prep day I would divide my ground beef into portions for whatever I have planned that week: in this case I plan to make meatballs so would do that and possibly bake them before allowing to cool and freeze. Because my meatball and meatloaf recipe are the same, I could easily double the batch and freeze a meatloaf for another quick meal next week. If you start accumulating a lot of premade meals, make sure you mark them with the date and use the oldest first. It might also help to keep a little inventory list where you can see it for planning your menus. 

I would also scramble fry and season my meat for the coming Sunday's taco night--freeze this and remember to take it out of the freezer Saturday night. 

Freeze things like pork loin that you won't be using til later. Remember to leave yourself a note what day you need to thaw these for use (this week it will be Friday).


  • Monday: NO SCHOOL, NO SKATING (depending on roads I'm not sure what day I will actually get to town for groceries)
BKFST: bagels, apple slices, yogurt
SNACK: fruit smoothy using frozen fruit, banana and skim milk
LUNCH: grilled cheese sandwiches, veggies and dip, salad for myself
SUPPER: Stir-fry beef and vegetables with rice. Fruit for dessert

Evening prep: douse your roast with whatever your prefered spices are, some Worcestershire sauce and brown each side in a frying pan. Transfer meat to slow cooker or roasting pan. Add a smidge of butter and a chopped onion to your drippings in the frying pan and brown. Add a cup of beef bouillon or onion soup mix and get all the goodies out of the pan. Add this to your roast and refrigerate until the next day when you either roast in oven or turn on your slow cooker before leaving for work. Also, chop up 2 days worth of salad fixins while your roast is browning.
  • Tuesday: SCC Meeting at noon at school (It is looking like I'll go for groceries after the meeting)
BKFST: pancakes (make a double batch and freeze) fruit
SNACK: fruit smoothy as above
LUNCH: salads (make 2 days worth) and leftover stir-fry for O and myself (he is such a good eater!) Bagel and fruit in J's lunchbox
SUPPER: beef roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, salad and vegetables

  • Wednesday: Playschool 9-11, Skating 4:30-5:30
This is the equivalent of hell day for me. Veteran moms will scoff at my weak knees. But I digress.

BKFST: toast and fruit, yogurt
SCHOOL LUNCHES: O only gets time for a wee snack of fruit and a treat then we come home for our dinner. I'm expecting we would have salad and a bun with a piece of meat each. J doesn't do meat, if he can help it. I will send him a cheese or jam bun.
SUPPER: leftovers that can be microwaved when we get home.

This is basically a night off from prep so be sure to do your dishes and leave your kitchen how you want to find it in the morning. That is the reward of menu-planning. While doing your dishes (or eating), simmer pot barley in 1-2 cups of water. Once your barley is tender add leftover gravy, meat and veg from your meal. Frozen veg like corn, carrots and peas also help "beef up" a soup. Add beef stock or seasoning to taste. Your soup should be finished by the time you are done in the kitchen for the day. Allow to cool and transfer to containers to take to work or leave it in the pot for tomorrow's lunch/supper. 

Remove meatballs from freezer for tomorrow.
  • Thursday: O and I usually go to the farm for part of the day
BKFST: pancakes and apple slices
LUNCH: Leftovers made into soup, buns, salad
SUPPER: Pre-frozen meatballs with pasta and sauce (freeze leftovers in casserole for next Wednesday)

  • Friday: hosting a playdate, will make pizza for kids, cauliflower pizza crust for myself
BKFST: Variation of things mentioned above
LUNCH: pizza
SUPPER: meatballs with rice (make enough for tomorrow too!), steamed or roasted vegetables

Take pork loin out of freezer to thaw.
  • Saturday: NO SCHOOL
Unless you have a big pork loin, it is going to over cook all to heck in a slowcooker if left all day. I would cut into medallions and fry. This would take you literally only a few minutes, particularly if you have the rice and veg already cooked from the night before. 

BKFST: cereal or pancakes, if I'm running low make double batch and freeze
LUNCH: Grilled cheese sandwiches with assorted fruit, veggies and dip
SUPPER: pork loin with stir-fried rice and veggies leftover from Friday

Take taco meat out for tomorrow.
  • Sunday: NO SCHOOL, PREP DAY 
BKFST: variation of above
LUNCH: clean out fridge, make soup etc
SUPPER: Taco night or some variation

Because this is prep day I would prepare my taco fixins (veg and salad) and make double for taco salads the next night.

If I feel there are too many beans for what I am making I freeze
what's left to be quickly added to a different meal.

Step Three: Prep Day

Depending on your schedule you may be getting your groceries on the same day you will prepare some meals. I am aware of how lucky I am not to have the double whammy of work outside the home to complicate my routine inside the home. Everyone's situation is different and take from this whatever will work for you and your family.

Whatever I am planning to make, I do ALL the chopping needed for ALL the dishes at once and divide into bowls or piles to save redoing the same job multiple times. If you are using baked chicken in several recipes, bake all of it at once. Divide after. This will get easier with practice. 

Do your dishes as you go. You will not have a major prep day more than once if you feel it leaves you with a mountain of unwashed dishes. The day before your prep day, do yourself a favour and run the dish washer and tidy up your kitchen before bed. You will not dread cooking as much if you can start out with a clean work area. Likewise, try to leave it that way for yourself afterwards, too. Enlist the help of all family members. I can't stress it enough that reducing the kitchen budget cannot fall on one person alone. The family needs to pitch in to make it work--get help unloading the groceries, clearing the mess, doing the dishes, send hubby to do the shopping, whatever is possible. If you are at this alone, make it more enjoyable for yourself with some favorite music, a favorite drink or the reward of a hot bath after. Try to make it enjoyable!

I feel fairly certain I've forgotten a bunch of ideas I had for this post, but I do plan to do a few more with simple, on-the-go recipes so I will elaborate then if need be. Let me know if any of these ideas help you with a busy week. Also, let me know your favorite meals and tricks to get meals on the table when you have a lot going on!







If serving chili a few days in a row I switch it up by serving it over fries with cheese, with rice,
alone with buttered buns, and transformed with some cabbage, carrot and beef stock to make
 a hearty soup. 




Friday, 14 October 2016

Weekly Menu-Plan Series

Now that I have kids in after-school activities, I am seeing a need to be more organized and prepare food ahead of time lest we fall into the costly and unhealthy habit of eating out. We live in a rural area so the options are slim. If I don't have supper planned and ready ahead it just means no one gets fed until late, which is hectic enough, but it also pushes back bedtime which will effect the next morning and behaviour for days to come. For myself, it also means I won't get the kitchen cleaned up that night and I will wake up to a mess which effects my mood and gets my day off on the wrong foot. So I know that I must be disciplined in order to keep things running smoothly.

I know that I am very fortunate to have the option to stay home while my kids are small. I choose to do this. If I had to, I would work out of the home and pay someone to look after my kids. But we aren't to that point yet and, for now, I feel that I can "save" our money just as efficiently as I could go out and earn more while incurring childcare costs to do so. That said, to each their own! We are in the midst of an economic crisis in this area. People are getting by however they have to, and more power to them :)

I have always been a fan of cooking in batches. In a couple hours I can prepare several different meals using similar ingredients, freeze most of it, and be prepared for busy evenings as they come. You can read more here and here and here.

You can also check out some sample menu-plans that I've used here, here and here.

Full Disclosure: I come from a family farm. I get my beef free from my parents--we are extremely lucky and grateful for this. While my meal plans might be heavy on the meat, particularly that of the red variety, my overall goal is to help people see how one meal can be planned with tomorrow's needs in mind. How can you plan your meal prep a day in advance to save time, lower stress, and prevent wasting food (and money!)?

There are an overwhelming number of menu-plan ideas on Pinterest. If you are interested in becoming more efficient in the kitchen it is a good starting point. Personally, I don't spend a lot of time looking at what other people do because I can use that time in the kitchen preparing food. I started cooking for a family of 7 when I was ten years old. Not everyone feels as proficient or creative, and that is positively okay! Take what helps and leave the rest.

In the weeks to come I plan to blog about the process of getting meals ready and using a menu-plan to simplify my week. If you have used a menu-plan please share your thoughts in the comments. I am always open to new ideas to save time and money!

Soup--the ultimate time and money saving meal!






Weekly Column: Be Thankful This Thanksgiving

This column went to press the week before Canadian Thanksgiving. To all those Canadians reading, hope you had a good 'un!

Be thankful this Thanksgiving

For many in the Midwest, it has been a year they would rather forget. While it’s tempting, and possibly justified, to be bitter about your current situation, it might help to take stock of what you have to be grateful for. Happy people will tell you that they are actively grateful and that the spirit of thankfulness is what inspires their joy. Wouldn’t you like to be one of them?

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are” -Marianne Williamson

The changes that families have faced over the last two years have been difficult and stressful. But Thanksgiving is an opportunity to recognize what you have to be thankful for. Even in hardship there is the prospect of growth, learning and transformation. Start anew with confidence that you have the inner strength to flourish in the face of adversity.

Share the positives, first

Have you ever had a quick visit with someone only to realize as it ends that you had nothing good to say? Although there may not be a lot of good news, focus on saying positive things and spreading a feeling of optimism. You may be faking it at first, but if you continue to alter your words and behaviour your emotions will eventually follow. Let the people you speak to leave your company feeling uplifted.

Surround yourself with optimism

If certain Facebook groups or websites get your blood boiling, ask yourself: what is your participation there actually accomplishing? Are you contributing to an online argument that, rather than educating, only serves to make others more entrenched in their own opinions? Do yourself a favour and disengage. Only you can control the quality of your online and personal interactions. If what you read online leaves you bitter for the day, stop reading it. Read hopeful, entertaining, educational material instead. Shut off apps that make you frustrated and angry. Don’t read the comments from online trolls. Go for a walk, clean your house, play with your kids. Do things that bring you joy and you will be joyful. While you may face stress and anxiety on a daily basis, it’s important for your mental health that you balance them with positive activities.

Be thankful for the hard stuff, too

This isn’t meant to diminish what families and business people have faced in the last two years. The thought of losing a business or a home is devastating and there’s been far too much of it. But what have your challenges taught you? In what ways are you stronger and wiser than you were before? Is your family closer, have you realized who your true friends are? What have you done to help and support someone, and in what ways have you yourself been helped and supported? Are there areas in your community where you feel you could step up and make a difference for the better?

Elevate yourself

Whether or not you have been affected by the economic downturn, it is good advice to find what makes you happy and do more of it. Ideally, this will be something that doesn’t cost you much money. What gives you strength? What makes you feel healthy and hopeful? For some it is church. Many find stress relief in exercise. Meditation helps with mental clarity and calm. Volunteering and philanthropy enriches everyone’s lives. If you have been struggling with feelings of helplessness, anger or fear, what can you do to turn your emotions around?

Focus on people rather than things

Relationships can be hard. Add in the stress of job loss, foreclosure, moving or a myriad of tough decisions and you may find that your possessions are the least of your worries. Do not escape into a bottle, a barroom, recreational drugs or other pastimes that will only drag you further down. Do the hard work necessary to keep your relationships strong and healthy. Rid yourself of the desire for more “stuff”. If you can no longer afford to keep up with the neighbours, stop trying. Opt out of the race to the bottom and stop purchasing what you don’t need and can’t pay for. Realize how simplifying your life and your budget, although a side effect of an unexpected down turn, might make you a stronger and more fulfilled person.

Sometimes you need a helping hand

Community supports like the Salvation Army food bank and The Olive Tree exist for times like these. If you can donate or volunteer this season, you might find the rewards outweigh the sacrifices. If you find yourself in need, reach out to these organizations and realize you are not alone. For added support, contact the Rural Distress Centre Hotline at 1.800.232.7288 or the Mental Health Helpline (toll free in AB) at 1.877.303.2642.


Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Weekly Column: Don't Swipe The Small Stuff

Don’t Swipe the Small Stuff

In a recent New York Times article, www.nytimes.com/2016/09/10/your-money/a-little-nagging-can-reduce-credit-card-debt, researchers found that some infrequent and subtle reminders about the follies of credit card debt helped reduce the amount that people spent each month. Assuming that this would work for you, are you willing to make some changes in order to reduce your monthly spending?

Do the math

Check your monthly credit card statement to be sure that all charges are accurate. While doing so, add up all of the purchases you made for under $20 and consider if any of them were actually necessary. Could you have avoided those costs altogether? Might you have packed a lunch, brought a drink from home or resisted the temptation to splurge?

Carry cash

Experts agree that people are more reluctant to part with their cash money than they are to swipe a card. If you are having trouble paying your cards off in full or if you are surprised how much you spend in a month, try withdrawing your petty cash ahead of time. Use only cash for incidental purchases under $20 and, when your petty cash is gone, stop spending. If you find that you blow through a month’s cash too quickly, only withdraw what you need for a week and do your best to be more disciplined.

You may find that you adjust to this system quite easily, but you will not notice results unless you get family members on board. Discuss the plan and allow each individual to have a bit to spend. Let them see how quickly their money disappears and make it a family goal to reduce the monthly expenditures. You may find that you make fewer stops and have more time once the whole family decides against small, unplanned purchases.

Remember your goals

Set a reminder on your phone, computer, or write it on the calendar, to check your credit card balances mid-month. This will refresh your memory as to how much money you already owe, and might help curb the impulse to go spend more. If you haven’t already, calculate how much you will save by paying off your credit cards faster at http://financialmentor.com/calculator/debt-snowball-calculator. Jot down some goals that you would like to work towards and use your credit cards less as a way of meeting those targets.

Shop once a week

If you find that frequent trips to the grocery store often cost you more than you plan, set one designated grocery day and stick to it. Don’t stray from your list and shop only for the basics. Resist the urge to make quick stops for things you feel you can’t do without— but if you must, pay with cash for any purchases under $20. Bring drinks and snacks from home and do better at stocking up weekly--your budget will thank you. Need it be said that the drive thru is costing you more than it’s worth? Get in the habit of going straight home and eating what you have there. 

Make your groceries stretch—if you’re comfortable getting groceries 4 times a month, make it a goal to reduce that to 3 and track how much you save. Do an inventory of what you have on hand and get creative to use up food that might otherwise go to waste. Not every meal needs to be a gourmet feast. Ensure your family gets a nutritious, balanced meal while avoiding the temptation to buy take out. Again, if you find yourself grabbing a few extras, pay cash and don’t cheat on your petty cash limit for the month.

The real cost of credit

You may feel that it’s easy to put purchases on your credit card and forget about it, but consider the cost of paying 20% interest your gas station treats, phone apps, and window shopping splurges. Convince yourself that if you don’t have the cash in your pocket to buy it, you don’t need it. Save your credit card limit for a real family emergency and try to put those $20 bills back in your pocket to pay down debt, build your savings or invest in your child’s education. It might not feel like a big savings right now but combined, and over time, your self-control will lead you out of debt faster and into financial stability.

They say it takes about 66 days to form new habits. If you start today—carrying cash and reducing the number of small, trivial purchases you are putting on your credit card—by the start of December you will have reduced your credit card bill by using the card less, and hopefully reformed any tendencies to let money trickle through your hands. Be vigilant and disciplined to create new habits and see the progress you can make with your budget and spending.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Weekly Column: Start Anywhere, Pay Down Debt

Start anywhere: pay down debt

A recent survey of over 5000 people by the Canadian Payroll Association found that 40% of respondents spend their entire paycheque, if not more, every week. Among other things, these dismal statistics point out that half of those polled save only 5% or less of their earnings (experts recommend saving 10% or more) and, sadly, 39% of people surveyed are “overwhelmed” by their debt. Read more about this survey at:  http://www.payroll.ca/cpadocs/npw/2016/National_FINAL_EN.pdf

Survey respondents list their most common debts as a mortgage (26%), credit card debt (18%), car loans (17%) and a line of credit (16%). Many people have all of these debts and possibly more, and it can begin to feel desperate. Are you one of these people?

Roll down debt: a review

Last week’s column introduced the idea of paying off your highest interest rate first, then using that payment amount (you’re used to spending it anyway) to increase the payments on your next highest interest rate, and so on, until you are debt free or in a position to start making those snowball payments to your own savings and retirement plan instead of creditors. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Many people reading, however, are crushed under their debt and feel there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. They feel they don’t control where their money goes and that debt grows even though income has shrunk, is sporadic, or has disappeared. It is grim and there are no easy answers for many families, but a proactive approach might get you out of debt faster than you think.

Remember last week’s example from moneymentors.ca? A payment of $20 above the minimum on a $24,000 credit card debt paid the card off almost 10 years earlier and saved over $1700 in interest. Rather than feeling controlled by your debt, let’s think of ways you can apply just $20 more to your payments and regain control of your finances.

Start anywhere: finding $20

If I told you that you can shave at least $20 from your monthly budget with minimal effort and little sacrifice, would you spend a few minutes to do so?

Dig out all your statements—bank, credit card, line of credit, phone bills, utility, etc. Are you paying extra for a paper copy of these statements? How much are you paying in bank fees? Can you bundle insurance? Can you switch to paying bills online to avoid buying costly cheques? Go to your branch and explain that you need lower fees and ask for options, there is bound to be a cheaper alternative for you. Call your cell phone provider and explain that you are having a hard time making your commitments—what are your options with a smaller package? Cancel some bells and whistles and keep track of your savings. Put that money towards your debt instead.

Are you sometimes penalized for paying late? Would making payments automatic save you on interest and late charges? Set up autopay on some accounts if you are sure that you can cover those bills consistently. Being better organized can save you big if you put that money towards the debts you already have instead of allowing more to pop up.

Are you paying for duplicate services? If you pay for satellite or cable, even at the lowest price available, and have Internet, Netflix, Crave TV, Shomi, or the like, consider what to cancel and what to keep. If you have a land line you barely use, can you reduce to a cell phone only? Discuss what’s right for your family and take the time to eliminate and reduce these bills.

Start anywhere: evaluate your “must haves”

Everyone has a few favorites they are reluctant to cut from the budget. If you like socializing on weekends, can you stay in with a few friends rather than paying for cabs and bar tabs? Can you prepare some simple meals ahead to resist eating out? Can you institute family no-spend days where everyone packs a lunch, avoids stores, and gathers for free activities? While you have your statements out reducing fees, examine them for how much is spent on entertainment. Although you may feel like you have cut back, you may be surprised what is spent on treats and spur-of-the-moment choices. Look through your fridge at what consistently gets thrown out, and stop buying it.


Once you have trimmed your spending, pay that amount on your highest interest rate consistently. Do not allow your monthly payment to slide lower because the credit card company says it can. If you are accustomed to paying $200/mo on your Visa ($220 now that you’ve read this, right?), do your best to keep paying that amount or more until the debt is eliminated. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Start today.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Day I Usually Quit

On Sunday I had the pleasure of travelling with friends to see another friend perform in a wonderful show. I forgot how intimate and personal live theatre can be. I found myself fighting back tears for most of the performance, hoping an ugly-cry didn't escape and interrupt the whole thing.

I always choke up when I see another person struggle with emotion. And the performance was real, raw. It was about gender roles, exclusion and inclusion, acceptance and rejection, fear and love, faith and hope. These are emotions and situations we all deal with daily. The story hit home. I watched an entire room full of people weep at the vilification and the ultimate vindication of a young person navigating a complicated and unforgiving community. In that story, a room full of people saw themselves in one way or another. To say the least, it was an emotional and inspiring afternoon that reminded me of the power of art.

Having several hours of driving with positive women living life on their terms didn't hurt either. It reaffirmed all the decisions I've made lately to put myself back on the list of people I care for and tend to. I was exhausted when I got home. Exhausted in the crying-jag, so-much-to-think-about way that actually pushes you over a hump and onto a new level of consciousness. I feel like the old me, the past me, has finally shed the skin of tentative self-doubt. Yes, I have been practicing my motto of meaning over approval for a few years now. It has helped me tremendously to achieve a life of gratitude and focus. And now, now I am ready to embody what my mind has been seeking all this time.

So, as I mentioned, Sunday was a day of travel, conversation and reflection. And I know, I know, that the first day that I don't exercise or follow my eating plan is usually the end of things for me for about two or three weeks. That is how easily I derail. And my one day away from my home meant jobs that I would have done Sunday were all the more urgent on Monday. The pigs and sheep need bedding for these colder nights. The rabbits need a nice cozy bed. The lawn must be mowed one more time before the snow flies (forecast for Wednesday). I need to clean up toys and electric fence and flower pots before winter, remove and clean my screens, wash windows, the list goes on and on. And somewhere on that list is exercise. And a writer's retreat application that needs finishing. Which requires actually working on a story that exists mostly in my mind and has yet to make its way onto paper. So after a wonderful Sunday, Monday is usually the day that I quit.

Just recycling some old pictures of autumn in this neck o' the woods

The symbolic "Monday After"...after a day of broken routine I have a heck of a time getting back on the wagon. I normally excuse myself from returning to whatever exercise routine I've established. I'll take today off...I'll get back at it tomorrow...I deserve this break. And before I know it, three weeks will have passed and it is all the harder to get back at it. But not this time.

Yesterday I got most of my list accomplished. I also managed to read more to my 4 year old (also a goal), process tomatoes, work on the application and I did not let myself off the hook with regards to exercise. In fact, I did 30 minutes of cardio plus 15 minutes of elliptical trainer. Then once the kids were in bed I did an additional 15 minutes of elliptical. I followed my eating plan (although I think I'm eating too much; I need to rein in my portions). But this is less about weight loss than it is about discipline and consistency. I will consistently do the things that make me feel good. I will make time in my day to do the things I need for myself. No one can do this for me, and no amount of encouragement is going to help unless I .Do. This. For. Myself.

I have been struggling with my weight and occasional depression since I had kids. There is no shame in admitting that. It doesn't mean I don't love them. I have allowed my hobbies, family, garden and animals to be a shield to hide behind--a line of defense against the hard work I need to do to fulfill my potential. But I can recognize the days where it will be hardest for me to persevere. Thanksgiving is going to be a difficult weekend. There are so many people to see, a party, a huge meal. Company and Husband home for the first time in 5 weeks. But I'm going to work my hardest on the day that I usually quit. I'm writing it here so that I have to face my decision if I stop. I feel better when I exercise so I will make time to exercise no matter how busy the long weekend is. You heard it here first ;)



Monday, 3 October 2016

Weekly Column: Rolling Down Debt

Rolling down debt

This scenario might sound familiar to some: in the oil boom, most employees in the patch worked on a rotating shift which included plenty of overtime hours. Many received a live-out allowance (LOA) to cover the cost of hotels and meals on the road. There might also be a truck allowance to cover wear and tear and mileage on a personal vehicle. All things considered, times were good and there was always plenty of money to go around.

People that work hard have a right to play hard. Boats, quads, bikes, campers and after market accessories for vehicles were another way of rewarding oneself for time spent away from home and family. The payoff to leaving those you love for weeks at a time was taking them on epic adventures when you got home, right?

And then you lost your job

When layoffs started, many people began preparing for the worst. Cutting unnecessary spending helps but if you have lost your overtime hours your income is also cut significantly. Now you may be caught without the money to pay things off in full as you had expected. Contractors and the self-employed are in an even bigger fix because, for many, the work dried up but the cost of their tools, trucks and equipment did not.

For those outside of the industry, it may be hard to understand how people raking in huge money could so quickly find themselves in a jam. But not many people have a year’s expenses saved for emergencies, and it turned out that was what was needed for countless families and business people. Even the most careful and conservative spenders didn’t foresee such an extended slowdown. Saving for a rainy day and planning for the worst helped, but it’s been a tough couple of years for many in the area. People that normally paid off their credit cards in full might now be using credit to get by, month to month.

The new normal

It’s been awhile now and, though stressful, hopefully you have managed to get some assistance or work and adjust to the new reality you face. Possibly you aren’t yet able to consider paying off your creditors faster. Maybe you are struggling to get on top of your payments but don’t know where to start. Whatever the case, when you’re ready to tackle that stack of bills there’s a strategy to help you make the most impact in the shortest amount of time.

The snowball effect

Essentially, you want to list all of your creditors from highest interest rate to lowest. Most experts recommend paying off the highest interest rate first to save the most on interest over a period of time. For example, pay off your credit cards that charge 19% interest before you worry about the line of credit that charges 7%. Once paid off, put the amount that you are accustomed to paying towards the next debt on your list, then combine those totals and begin paying on the next, and so on. In this way you will create a “snowball” of payments that gets larger and pays creditors off faster, saving thousands in interest.

Pay more than the minimum

Credit card companies lower your minimum monthly payment as the balance gets paid down, basically stretching out the time it takes to pay the bill off in full (and making the company more money in interest). One example on moneymentors.ca shows how paying just $20 above the minimum every month and keeping the payment at that amount for the entirety pays off a debt of $24,105 almost ten years earlier and saving over $1700 in interest.

Can you find an extra $20 every month to get yourself out of credit card debt?

Be strategic

If you’ve only been making minimum monthly payments and plan to increase that amount to save on interest, be sure that you don’t overextend yourself and end up needing to use the credit card for survival again. The idea is to tighten up any discretionary spending and sacrifice a few treats here and there to raise your payment. If you are able to bring in some extra monthly income and can dedicate it exclusively to the highest interest rate you have, you’ll quickly see balances begin to drop.

Use that momentum to wipe creditor after creditor off your list. Once you’ve paid off your credit cards and some loans, use the amount that you used to pay on debt to build up an emergency fund, invest for retirement and save for vacations and recreation.

There are many online and printed explanations of how to snowball your debt repayment. Check out http://financialmentor.com/calculator/debt-snowball-calculator and do an honest calculation of your liabilities. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will unburden yourself from credit card debt.


Saturday, 1 October 2016

For The Future Me

The other day I read something on Medium that really resonates. Although awkwardly titled, "How to Trick Yourself Into Being Kind to Yourself" hit home for me on a number of levels. The gist of it is that we can all try a bit harder, dig a little deeper, today in order to help ourselves tomorrow. Whether it is just maintaining a bare minimum when depressed, or being motivated to exercise and eat right even when we'd rather not, framing the situation as a "won't I be glad for this tomorrow" scenario helps keep us on track even in moments of weakness.

On the surface, I have been doing this for sometime without even thinking about it. I have been doing much better at tidying the kitchen before putting the kids to bed. I know how I dislike waking up to a mess so it has become a matter of routine to do the dishes, sweep the floor and tidy the living room before we go up for baths and stories. The boys also know their roles in helping and it has made life so much more pleasant. Unconsciously, I have made a routine of tidying today, though tired, to start the day off right for myself tomorrow.

In other ways, though, I have failed to invest in myself, whether it is today or in the future. I have slowly allowed myself to become that tired looking mom we all know--the one whose home is reasonably tidy, her kids are polite and clean, the bills are paid the lawn is mowed the list goes on, but in her ability to look after everyone else she has neglected to look after herself. Possibly her clothes don't fit, her hair may be disheveled or simply pulled back for practicality. She may have nothing to say because she has lost her voice and opinions and interests in her quest to make everything good for everyone else.

This didn't happen overnight. It is a slow erosion and small sacrifices are made so naturally that they go unnoticed, at least at first. By the time they are felt it is too late and the opportunities that come along where she might renew her interests and reinvent who she once was...those opportunities often go unanswered out of fear, or something comes up, or it is not convenient to make it happen.

It pains me greatly to say that I am that woman. I've allowed thirty pounds to creep onto my frame the same way I've allowed my interests and intellect to creep out the door. Losing your identity is an insidious, silent chipping away at your spirit.

Of course I am happy with my life. I have two happy children--having happy children is all any of us really wants, isn't it?--I have a caring common-law husband, a helpful family that I am close to in spirit and proximity. I have friends, real ones, that understand me. Life is good and I am grateful and this is not a stay-at-home-mom rant. But having all of these things and losing myself in the process? That is not fair and it is not even necessary. It is just something that I have allowed to happen.

Frugality can do that. Living in the country can do it too. My mom is the only person that has watched my kids, save for a handful of afternoons at a friend's house. My mom is busy and overworked and I don't want to add to her workload, no matter how much she loves to help with the grandkids. So here I sit.

But I am realizing that, for the Future Me, I need to step out of my well rehearsed role of martyr-mother. I do NOT want to look back on my life and see a path littered with opportunities I didn't take, stories I didn't write, experiences I didn't have because it was easier to stay home and do the work that needing doing. I will always take care of my family and animals. I know that. I am not throwing everything overboard for a life of glamour and adventure. I am simply making myself part of the conversation again.

Even before I read the Medium story I had begun to schedule myself some writing times, usually in the evening. It's not a perfect scenario because I am often too tired and worn down to properly focus. Sometimes I just fall asleep instead. But I am working on it. I have even worked in a bit of afternoon time and it has been massively productive.

Most importantly, for me at the moment, I have begun to exercise in earnest. I am tired of having a belly hanging over the jeans handed down to me by a friend. I am very tired of looking frazzled and worn and spent. That is not how I feel on the inside. Inside, I am brimming with life and curiosity and possibility. I want to look like I care about myself. Right now I know that I look like I put everyone else's needs before my own. Because I do.

Scheduling time to write and exercise has made me more efficient at completing all the jobs I like to get done. Leaving the dishes pile up for 3 days does not help my situation because then I am tired and frustrated in a dirty house. But if I want the time to write and exercise, I can accomplish quite a bit. I know that I can get the dishes done and floor swept and house tidied in only a few minutes. The Future Me needs me to do that. Investing in myself, giving myself time to exercise, read, write and grow, is very much  a part of caring for the Future Me too. I have to do it.

Weekly Column: Consumerism is a Costly Cycle

Consumerism is a costly cycle

In years gone by, frugality was a way of life—not out of stinginess but out of necessity. Families were larger and were quite often supported by a single income. Handing down clothes, growing food, spending cash only and waiting until payday was how most everyone got by. Basically, if you couldn’t pay it off in full, you didn’t buy it.

Today, it’s a different story. Most families have more than one vehicle, at least one credit card and various loans besides their mortgage. Often both parents work and must pay for after school care, a sitter or day care. Add extra-curricular activities to this already busy schedule and it’s understandable that people no longer have time to cook and eat at home.

Gone are the days of waiting for a movie to become available at the video store or, worse yet, be shown on TV. Pay-per-view, downloading and live-streaming provide almost instant availability of anything we are interested in. We are steeped in convenience and we don’t mind paying for it. In fact, convenience is so much a way of life that we don’t always realize the cost.

Everything is disposable

Older folks will remember that eating in a restaurant was once a rarity. Now we have play structures to entice families to bring their kids and turn them loose. An added bonus is the plastic, throw-away toy included in every kids’ meal. Our homes are overflowing but we are conditioned to accept, and even expect, more all the time.

If children grow up receiving a new toy every time they have a meal out, at a restaurant geared toward their total satisfaction, should we really expect them to treasure their belongings or are we fostering in our kids an “easy come, easy go” attitude? I lost that toy, or this one broke. No worries, I’ll get another next week. Besides the McHappy lifestyle, do you let your kids pick out a new toy or treat whenever you are out? Are you drowning in debt but have no idea how to save yourself? Are birthdays and Christmas becoming ever more extravagant just to elicit a response from people that are bombarded with new things year-round?

We have Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram (the list goes on) to show us daily how everyone else is living. Often we feel that they are living better—either more stylishly, with more adventure, fewer worries…happier. Seeing inside people’s homes and vacations, not to mention the carefully staged presentation of their relationships, can leave you wishing for more. But maybe it’s time to strip away all the layers of consumerism that our culture has piled on us in the last few decades.

Is your consumption sustainable?

Have you ever put a price tag on the garbage you throw out of your home every week? Have you added up the cost of clothes you have never worn that you either donate or give away when you purge your closets? How much food rots in your fridge before you toss it out and go buy more? To be honest, we are all guilty of waste to some degree. The question is at what point will we say “enough is enough”? When will we tire of the cycle of working and worrying, spending and purging? Is there actually a simpler way to live?

In most countries in the world, having unworn clothes, uneaten food and a surplus of belongings is a dream that will never be realized. Many nations don’t have a reliable food system and the little food there is has become unaffordable or inaccessible because of war and crime. Compare that struggle to our preoccupation with getting the latest fashions, keeping up with trends and competing on social media. It really puts things into perspective.

Many families effected by job losses have already altered their spending to match their income. They would probably agree that keeping up appearances is not important when it comes to keeping the roof over your head and the kids fed: “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.

It takes courage to make changes in your life. You may notice that certain people are not supportive of your desire to stop mindlessly spending. You have to decide what is right for you—living according to their standards or choosing your own priorities.


Frugality in and of itself will not guarantee you a good life. It may get or keep you out of debt, but it is up to you to find the pleasure in the little things and give meaning to your daily interactions. Do you choose to stress and worry in order to preserve an unsustainable lifestyle or do you step off the consumerism treadmill, set some goals and get back to basics?