Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Weekly Column: Practical Money Skills for All

Practical money skills for all

How many adults say they wish they knew more about, or had done better with, managing their money? Considering few things are more essential to your survival and quality of life for yourself and your family, it’s baffling that people don’t do more to educate themselves on how credit works, understanding investing, or learning to save money and budget more efficiently.

But, maybe you can’t blame people for being overwhelmed or embarrassed by their lack of knowledge. If you didn’t learn budgeting skills while growing up, it can be like someone handing you a skill saw and asking you to build a dresser. Although a basic, vital life skill, it’s not second nature for people to know how to use their money wisely. If you’ve never had a productive conversation about saving and spending, then how can you be expected to make all the right decisions?

Lack of confidence might prevent people from learning to handle money more wisely. Maybe they don’t know where to start and are embarrassed to ask. But there might be more at play than just feeling inadequate.

Apathy is the numb lack of concern borne of feeling that nothing you can do will make a difference.

It’s the feeling of not being interested, and not caring. And if you’ve been in the hole long enough, or were born there, it’s not hard to imagine giving up and expecting nothing better for yourself.

There is much research to suggest that, once a person feels their situation will never change, people give up on trying to save or make wise financial decisions. The $10 meal at McDonald’s becomes the only pleasure you may get in a world of stress and deprivation. So, although $10 worth of groceries might feed you several healthier meals, people opt for the more visceral gratification (in this case, the unhealthy, expensive junk food) first.

In a perfect world, all children would get a proper education that included practical money skills. They would have the math skills to compare prices, understand credit, calculate interest, and the reasoning skills to know when they are being sold a raw deal.

This learning and mindfulness would carry on throughout their lifetimes and they would be able to defend themselves as well as possible against market fluctuations, economic downturns and lifestyle inflation. In a perfect world.

Sadly, parents aren’t always teaching their kids money skills and it’s not something you can leave to the school system. If your kids don’t see you budgeting and saving, why would you expect the school to teach it to them? How applicable is a school lesson on budgeting if little Johnny believes there is always more money to be had? If he doesn’t have chores? If he’s never had to save his money and buy his own gadgets?

It’s as easy as discussing why you buy generic brands at the grocery store. Or saving the recycling money to go to the movies. Conversations about money and value are only one of the ways to teach your kids about budgeting.

It’s never been easier to educate yourself on all sorts of things, money matters included.  The Internet has brought the library to your fingertips, you might say. Pay attention to the sources, and switch your reading habits to learning about saving and budgeting. Include your kids on this educational path.

Although created by Visa, the site is a wonderful online resource for families and schools. This site has games for kids to familiarize them with money and saving. There are even complete lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom.

Be discerning. Ask yourself, is this site trying to sell me anything? Are there hidden obligations or costs to this program? If so, keep looking until you find free, educational resources like or to fill in the gaps in your money sense.

Start teaching your kids the important skill of budgeting and comparison shopping. Give them a small allowance and make them save it to buy what they want. They learn far more from saving and delaying gratification, rather than being handed what they want whenever they ask.

Many people do well with their money without much advice. A basic instinct to spend less than what they make and save for a rainy day has helped them through what life throws at them. But what about talk of interest and mortgage rates? Investing and taxes? At what point does the fine print exceed our knowledge, and how willing are we to give up some leisure time to learn more about handling our money?

Many of us need to learn more about finances. Don’t be scared, and don’t feel like your situation will never improve. Dedicate some time to your financial future.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Weekly Column: Rabbits don't lay eggs

Rabbits don’t lay eggs

Image result for easter eggs

As Easter approaches, stores have filled up with chocolate eggs and all the holiday paraphernalia that comes with it. Whether it is the $40 stuffed animals or just the sheer amount of chocolate consumed, the whole thing can get excessive and, frankly, the more you give a kid the harder it is to impress them.

On one hand, it makes sense to compare prices and try to get more for your dollar. In other words, shopping online for the treasures and treats that the Easter bunny will deliver, or comparing bulk vs prepackaged chocolate, or making your own desserts rather than buying ready-made. There are many inventive ways to get yourself the same lavish, over-the-top Easter feast that you were used to before the drop in the price of oil.

As parents, it’s hard to scale back spending on birthdays and holidays because you want to give your kids the best you can. Parents might be tempted to do without at other times and still push the boat out on special occasions. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, if you’ve been struggling to get back on your feet, is it realistic to keep sacrificing in order to keep up appearances? At what point do you say enough is enough and stop the cycle of spending money you don’t have? And when do you allow your kids to adjust to the truth, rather than hiding it from them and perpetuating unrealistic expectations? Maybe it’s time to accept this as our new normal, and adapt rather than imitate.

Easter is a holiday that, for many, has become less about religion and more about the arrival of spring. To some, it’s nothing more than a week off school and a chance to eat chocolate. There comes a time when we, as parents and grandparents, must decide if we will just go with the flow and allow all our old meaningful holidays to be swept up in the current of consumerism or if we will take a stand against it and stop buying in.

What are your favorite Easter memories from childhood? A visit with grandparents? Possibly a walk through puddles or an Easter egg hunt? Did you travel to see family or did you have relatives stay over? Do you actually remember how much chocolate you received? Does it matter now?

If buying your kids a new super hero themed Easter basket every year, along with a set of fuzzy rabbit ears, a stuffy, a toy, the list goes on, is what Easter means to you, well, to each their own. But if you can’t afford it, maybe it’s time to reconsider the memories you want your children to take with them into adulthood and parenthood themselves.

How about a walk to collect pussy willows in a bouquet? How about a trip to the library (God save ‘em) for some books and a movie which you then read or watch together, never once glancing at your cell phone?

How about your children be in charge of making the meal, or help, with supervision, depending on their age? What will they remember better, that time they made gravy for grandpa? Or the time they scored some new sneakers from the Easter bunny? It’s hard to say, anymore. Maybe kids would hate that and dig in their heels about having to help. All the more reason to make them.

It seems like the more plastic there is involved in a holiday, the more commercial it has become and the further it has drifted from the original reason for celebration. If times are tough under your roof, why not return to some more traditional customs and forego the plastic Easter that has slowly become the norm?

Buy a dozen eggs and some food colouring and dye eggs with your kids. Let them take the lead and pick their colours and designs. Set up a treasure hunt that has challenges and tests skills. Make the focus of this Easter the people, not the stuff.

Let’s become a compassionate society and forego the Facebook and Instagram pictures of all the loot your kids got this Easter. Let’s make it socially unacceptable to splash materialism across social media feeds. Let’s frown on it.

Instead, show pictures of yourself doing things with your kids. Go climbing trees. Play at the park. Let those pictures characterize your timeline. Show off what you have done for others. Instead of showing baskets of chocolate and gifts that you have received, post only images of what you have given to those in need.

People are still hurting. There are kids that won’t get much this Easter, just like they didn’t get much for Christmas. But if they are given time and attention, it might be their most meaningful holiday yet. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Courage, my word

Image result for the tragically hip
The Tragically Hip

It's been a significant few weeks for the introverted. I strongly disagree with the budget cuts (extreme cuts that will change the functioning of our little province's library system) that have been made in Saskatchewan. It was, to me, that one issue that might draw me out of the shadows to face my anxiety demons and take a stand and say "not if I can help it".

I've circulated a petition that asks to return funding to the 2016 levels. I've approached people I do and do not know, driven the gravel roads and gone door to door. I don't want to make this sound like too big of a deal, because when it became too much for me I allowed myself to stop. And I only had a few hours to do it. But I got some signatures and I feel that, looking back on this, I will be relieved that I didn't let the opportunity pass.

I also attended the Read In outside our local MLA's office, joined by some friends and family and other concerned library supporters. We were on the news. We will likely be in the paper. All of this is exposure that I dread with every fiber. Naturally it is also a position that puts me at odds with more conservative minded relatives that disagree strongly with my stance. In short, the whole thing stresses me out and has brought to the fore some anxious emotion.

It would be easier to allow this to pass, unmentioned. Courage. It didn't come, it doesn't matter. There have been moments when I really felt the pounding of my heart in my chest and thought, "courage, you couldn't come at a worse time".  But there is never a good time to make uncomfortable decisions and stand up for what you deep down believe in. There is also never a good time to let your values slide. 

This is a song that has taken on such dimension for me in the past weeks. For so many reasons. Read up on Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip if you are unfamiliar. 

I'm sure I'm not done putting myself in uncomfortable places for issues I care about. I'm sure I'm not done feeling like a basket case when I do. But dammit all, there's no simple explanation for anything important any of us do...the human tragedy is living with the consequences (Courage, The Hip).

Weekly Column: For want of a library

There is a proverb that goes something like this:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Around the Lloydminster area, we are familiar with the uncomfortable decisions that come with reducing spending. We get it. When you’re bringing in less money, you have to spend less money. It makes sense, and it’s what this column has been preaching for over a year.

This column has also been preaching that your local library is one of your community’s greatest resources. It is a place of inclusion—anyone can walk in and read a book, borrow a computer, or sit and study. It is a place where those without a phone or the Internet can still access these tools while they apply for jobs, look for childcare, or search for a home.

It is a place where parents bring their kids to get them excited about books and reading. When children borrow books, they learn to respect the property of others, they commit to a deadline and they become aware of the community around them.

In small towns, a library is still a thing of pride—a destination for local families that prioritize reading in their homes. While Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education, Don Morgan, feels that “the future of libraries is leaning towards electronic media,” many parents would agree that there is a decline in children’s behavior and attitudes when they are placed in front of a screen for extended amounts of time.

There is something to be said for reading paper books, which is hard to afford in an economic downturn like we have been experiencing. Yes, balancing budgets is important and worthy, but cutting libraries to this extent is taking resources from the young, the unemployed, and the marginalized people that consider the library a safe place of learning.

Whatever your child grows up to be, limiting their exposure to books now surely limits their reasoning and deductive skills later in life. Sure, they can google what they want to know. And when they do, they will have to discern for themselves what is really true. The Wikipedia page that you or I could update with our own thoughts at any time? The blog or fringe website of someone presenting themselves as an expert? There are plenty of hacks that have been published in print form, but visiting a library and exposing your child and yourself to a multitude of opinions gives you an opportunity to learn together while also becoming critical thinkers. Let’s not leave this kind of instruction up to our kids, alone on the Internet.

Perhaps these cuts won’t be the end of small town libraries. That’s hard to imagine, though, with these small main street entities already stripped down to a few hours a week. And that happened during the high-flyin’ fast livin’ days of the oil boom. If things pick up and Government revenues increase, will we ever see these little libraries reopen?

With regional libraries facing a 58% cut to their funding, programs such as interlibrary loans, e-books and literacy programming may be lost. If libraries can’t do kids programming, it’s possible that kids won’t have the same lifelong love of learning and reading. People in need will more easily fall through the cracks. The social costs of these cuts might actually be more expensive for the province and its tax payers in the long-term.

If you are passionate about books and feel libraries are an important resource in our small towns and in Lloydminster, learn more at Send a letter or email to MLA Colleen Young, Education Minister Don Morgan and Premiere Brad Wall—their contact info and a petition is provided through the link.

Or join us at noon on April 7th outside MLA Young’s office by Mary Brown’s on the East side of Lloyd—unit 2-4304 40th Ave. Bring a library book and express your concern.

Taking away libraries is like stopping buying fresh fruit and vegetables to save money. Sure, you will survive for the indefinite future. But will you be better off? Or would continuing to invest in healthy things now ensure that there aren’t gaps and learning deficits that are more expensive and harder to fix down the road?

Like the proverb cautions, in a budget of billions of dollars, cutting $3.5 million from such a necessary community resource is like neglecting the feet of your horses. What will be lost for want of a library?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

What Does the Library Mean to You?

I've found, in my little blog universe, a like-minded group that has saved me, saved me, at times, from feeling utterly alone in seeking the life I want for myself and my family. Just knowing that so many people are on the same path, be they near or far, has been a comfort when I didn't feel my own passions and interests reflected in my immediate surroundings. I am so grateful to have these connections to people that I can "speak to" and, happily, I can visit their blogs to learn and commiserate and cheer them on in turn. This sense of community, albeit virtual, has been a turning point for my emotional well-being and overall sense of place and happiness.

Another thing that has been paramount to my adjusting to becoming a mom, my struggles with depression and anxiety, and my maturity as an adult has been the local library, wherever I have lived. I have lived in the city (not a big one, didn't love it) where I basically lived and worked and breathed the university library and archives as a student and research assistant. I was even in charge of a small college library in one of my former positions. I have tutored literacy and English as a Second Language at various local libraries and I'm here to say that the safe, welcoming space of a local library is essential to making connections between the literate and those who need assistance. If not for the local library, where will the working person who needs help with their English meet a literacy tutor? At a noisy coffee shop?

When I worked as a life skills and employment support worker for a developmentally delayed young lady, the library was one of our favorite stops because it was a place where she could access the computers, flip through her favorite magazines and check out books that we used in our weekly lessons. The local library is a place of inclusion, empowerment and learning.

More recently, the local library has been a lifeline for me as I navigate writing a weekly column in the local newspaper. I check out books to research much of what I write about, and I encourage my readers to visit the library rather than spending their money on books they can ill afford (it's a frugality column, and though I want to support writers as well, my advice is from the saving money standpoint).

More personally, the library has been a place for me to teach my kids about literacy, community, responsibility, diversity and public service. We use the local library almost weekly. Monthly, for sure. We attend the craft and story mornings and we visit to borrow books and movies. This teaches them to look after someone else's property and keep track of deadlines and respect rules. When we go to the library my kids see people of colours, religions and economic backgrounds they are not familiar with. This is a good thing. We see people that are out of work, using public computers in a determined quest to better themselves. Without these public spaces, where would all of this activity, learning and mingling of cultures take place?

In a world where we are increasingly afraid of each other, how are two farm kids going to be exposed to people that are different? And will they grow up to believe that different is bad, strange, scary or dangerous?

I write a column in the paper about making lifestyle cutbacks to counter the loss of work and wages that many local people have endured in the last several years. I am a firm believer in examining your spending, tracking it, and making painful, uncomfortable choices to bail yourself out. And I can see that the Saskatchewan Government feels it is making those same types of choices when it cuts funding to libraries. But I would ask, on behalf of the people who are out of work, who have possibly lost their jobs and homes and have reduced their cell phone bills and internet bundles, where are they going to go to look for work, improve their resumes, or read a book rather than give in to despair?

With an accountant's eye, one might look at provincial libraries and see a non-essential public service that can be pruned or, in the case of Regina and Saskatoon, eliminated completely (the Province cut all funding to the two largest city libraries, leaving it up to municipal taxes to support those major city libraries). But what will the ripple effects be throughout small communities who have only been able to remain open a few mornings a week? What about the town where we used to live, which only has a k-gr 8 school with no library, whose students traipse across town once a week to the tiny library we used to visit? Will that town lose its library, and thus the school lose its library as well?

If I recall correctly, that little library was only open 10 or 15 hours a week. But it was the community hub in a town of 200 or so people. There were kids crafts, a book club, a place for the town and surrounding farm families to borrow books. It was a place where a tired, depressed new mom went to connect with other grown ups. And it helped immensely.

I want to do something to raise awareness of what's happening. I also need to really sit down and read what the exact situation is. For now, I 'm wondering if anyone out there has ideas what Saskatchewan can do to protest and turn this around. If you are a resident of Saskatchewan, there is a letter writing campaign you can join. Please pass it on to like-minded people.

 Save Saskatchewan's Libraries

Please leave any suggestions you might have in the comments!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Weekly Column: Girls just wanna have fun(ds)

Girls just wanna have fun(ds)

Did you know that, in their lifetimes, women need to save more money than men? Statistically speaking, women are likely to live longer, and therefore need to plan for a longer retirement. Not only that, many women take time away from their careers to have kids. While some women are comfortable staying home to provide their own childcare, others return to work and find that they’ve either been passed up for promotions, missed training opportunities or have otherwise fallen behind in their field.

In the event of a family emergency, it quite often falls upon women to take time off to help. Whether it’s a family crisis, helping with aging parents or helping the kids adjust to becoming parents themselves, women are more likely to sacrifice their wages and promotions due to family responsibilities. Most would say that being involved in their community and family is well worth it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it affects how much money you will make in a year and over your lifetime.

Additionally, in most industries, women are still not paid the same amount as men doing the same jobs. While there’s been progress in wage parity, it’s still harder for women to get promotions and raises no matter how hard they work. So, what’s a girl to do?

Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you

No matter your financial plans, don’t wait for someone else to get them started. Get professional advice on the most effective ways to save and invest, whatever your age. The strategy of a young lady fresh out of university won’t be the same as that of a 50-something divorcee or a widow facing retirement alone. A newlywed young mom has a vastly different reality than an upwardly mobile businesswoman. What they all have in common, though, is a right and a responsibility to plan for their own future and the future of any dependents they support.

Plan for debt

There are many different debts that a woman might incur over her lifetime. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t let it stop you from saving a down payment, finding a property and purchasing a home. Get a roommate or turn the basement into a money-making suite if possible. Taking on student debt is quite likely an investment in yourself and your future. Sit down and plan how you’ll be able to pay for extra education.

When shopping for a vehicle, keep in mind the depreciation that happens the moment you drive a new car off the lot. Consider whether a used vehicle might suit your needs just as well. Do your research and watch for a used vehicle that still has warranty if you’re more comfortable having that security. At all times, think about how the interest you are paying on “stuff” might otherwise be going into savings. Don’t let your lifestyle choices of today eclipse your financial security in the future.

Diamonds (and gold) are a girl’s best friend

Not only women are intimidated by the stock market. However, if feeling that you don’t understand prevents you from building an investment portfolio, you are selling yourself short. Websites such as and can help boost your financial literacy. Meet with several financial advisers to discuss how you want to put your money to work for you. Don’t hire anyone who condescends to you—it’s your money and you should be comfortable talking to your investment professional.

Life is not a fairy tale

Things get complicated when you go from being a working woman, earning your own pay and deciding how to spend and save, to being a partner in a relationship. Combining incomes and households, whether in a marriage or common-law situation, is a serious endeavor. An honest discussion about financial goals seems a no-brainer, but not all couples know each others’ expectations or beliefs.

It’s true that many families have struggled to pay for necessities these last few years. Beginning a conversation about a woman’s financial needs might, at this point, seem moot. But, if you have some control over your household spending, perhaps you should start thinking of places to cut costs to save for your long-term future.

Perhaps you can educate your daughters or nieces on being financially independent. No matter whether you are single and working or in a committed relationship where all your needs are met, things change and unforeseen emergencies arise. The question is, will you be ready?

Having a solid safety net in place, for retirement and emergencies, only makes sense no matter your gender. But with lower wages and many factors drawing them out of the workforce, women need to be even more diligent and prepared. It’s never too late to come up with a plan.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Weekly Column: The thing about sales...

The thing about sales...

End of season clearance sales are upon us. Savvy shoppers everywhere are sharpening their pencils and making a list of things they will need for next winter. Some things to consider are: what size do you expect your kids to be wearing? What do you have that can be reused or handed down? Sold?

Do you normally receive hand-me-downs? Are you comfortable checking with friends to see if the right sized winter clothing is coming your way? Doing some queries before you go shopping might save you a bundle, even if what you are shopping for is on sale.

Gifts and useful things

Other things you might find on sale right now are winter-themed dishes, bedding and knick-knacks that might be given as gifts over the coming year. Scarf and mitten sets, lined jeans and the like are cozy Christmas gifts and can be stored until next winter.

But don’t forget you’ve already purchased these items! And don’t continue to buy more gifts next year, just because you have forgotten how much you paid. If your price limit is $50 and the regular price of the item is $50, you have done your part. Even if the item was priced significantly less, don’t feel tempted to continue spending—commit to spending as little as possible.

Don’t be swayed

As the days get longer, displays of summer tops and bright new dishes might feel like a reward for making it through another winter. But what use have you for more stuff? Yes, you may want a few new summer things, but they’re likely to be full price at this time of year. Learn the value and price of things—if you don’t know the regular price you may easily be fooled into thinking a so-called sale at one store is a better deal than the cheaper, regular price at another.

If it is a cheaply made piece of clothing, why would you pay full price when it is probably going to be on sale before the weather is nice enough to wear it? Stores display full price inventory in the lead up to the new season—soon we will be bombarded by new summer trends. 

Dig out your last year’s wardrobe before deciding you need to shop. What fits, and what doesn’t? What will you do with the clothes you aren’t going to wear? Having a “one in, one out” policy helps some people curb their spending. Don’t allow yourself to bring any new articles of clothing into your home unless you can part with something you already have. 

Of course, donating to one of the worthy local second hand shops or swapping with friends is a good use for your discarded clothing. Or, if you’re really ambitious, you might plan a spring garage sale and try to recoup some of the money you have spent on items you no longer want.

Do your research

If you’ve been waiting to purchase bigger ticket items for your yard, say a lawn mower or garden tractor, compare prices at a number of different stores. Inquire about sales and warranty. 

Don’t jump into an impulsive purchase before you have read customer reviews and asked around. You may find a great bargain advertised on social media or kijiji. Take your time and wait for the best deal to come along.

Test yourself

If you are shopping for some new spring and summer things, don’t go over board. Ask yourself some questions before you pull the trigger on those purchases:

Will you still want this item in six months or a year? How about two years? Five? 

If you decided not to buy it today, could you be bothered to drive back to the store tomorrow to get it? 
They say that once a customer has held an item they’re much more likely to buy it—avoid handling the merchandise that you are browsing through.

Also, ask yourself if you might find the item used. Many things built years ago were better quality. If what you are thinking of buying is not something that you have been waiting and watching for, it is by definition an impulsive purchase. 

Choose to sleep on it. Decide if you wouldn’t be better off putting that same amount of money against your highest payment.

Shopping seasonally

Shopping for Christmas decorations after the fact is only one example of how you can save drastically by shopping off-season. To some, it might negate the excitement of the holiday, but for the frugal it is an opportunity to save. 

To be truly and completely frugal, though, you have to ask yourself if buying something because it is on sale is wise at all. If you don’t need it and won’t use it, your money is better kept in your pocket.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Back From the Deep

A few of you might remember that I was starting a writing class this winter. It's into the final week now, and what a fabulous experience it has been :)

Naturally, our Internet went kerplunk as soon as I was immersed in an online course. So it was both a challenge and a blessing to lose our contact with the online world. Posting to the class was a pain--definitely! But I think I maintained as much of a presence as my busier classmates did. The Internet came and went, you see, in drips and infuriating drops, wasting more time trying to log on that just. going. to. write.

So it turned out that losing the Internet for a month was helpful, in that I had to quit checking email, reading American news (!), and trying to log in to my blinkety-blank online course site and just go do the work of writing. And, let me tell you, that's harder than it sounds.

Does anyone out there remember the days of staying with a task from beginning to end, uninterrupted, for hours? Looking up at the clock and being shocked at how much time has passed? I do! Mind you, it was years ago, before I had kids. And also before the Internet and smart phones reduced my attention span to that of a gold fish.

After a month of very little connectivity, I managed to regain some of my work ethic and attention span. I'm now able to work for an hour, even two, at a time without checking email, logging into my class to check for new posts, or just taking a break to browse news sites. I have to wonder--how productive of a writer would I be if I could keep up this forward momentum? If I could make writing, real, nose to the page writing, my priority instead of turning on my phone to feed my brain more smut and intrigue from the online headlines?

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep abreast of what's happening. The worst thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand, now more than ever. But feasting on every detail of Trumpism, right down to the fact that he obscenely eats ketchup on his well done steak, is distracting me from this very important moment in my life where I set out on a journey of learning, discovery, and achievement. I'm not saying I'm going to selfishly ignore what's going on so that I may improve my writing. I want to refocus my attention on the certain issues that most worry me, and let those concerns inform me as a person and a writer and do something about it.

The ability to shut off the noise and concentrate and invest yourself in what you are doing is being lost. I go on social media rants all the time, so I'll spare everyone that. But in my constant sense of crisis these last months, I felt my ability to cope being threatened. I'll admit I've had issues with anxiety and depression in the past (who hasn't, really!) but it surprised me, and scared me a little, to have the old hollow, panicked feeling return. Racing thoughts, avoiding social situations, the works.

Then I sent a draft of a story to a friend for feedback and was disappointed with I what I heard. It affected me far more than it should have. But I am at the beginning of this learning curve and my feelings were hurt. Frankly, it was hard to get back in the saddle. But when it is hardest, I know this well, that is where the most learning is taking place.

I can't say for sure if the way I was feeling was due to a cold February, Trumpism, the headlines, social media (I'm not on FB, twitter, instagram), the emotional process of writing and editing a story over and over, or just depression rearing its ugly head, but I can say this--whenever I feel the panicked, untethered feeling of not knowing what to do or how to manage, it is time to sit down and talk myself off that ledge.

A quilt for my friend. See any yellow butterflies?

I had to take a break from working on my story. I knew that I wasn't giving up, exactly. Just that my mental health needed a reprieve. I worked instead on a quilt I've been making for a friend (after a day in bed. I actually didn't have the energy to move, and Husband was home to look after the kids. I had a good cry, milked it for awhile, then put on my big girl panties.But in my defense, I also came down with a brutal flu!)

This quilt is significant in many ways. My friend and I have been very honest with each other about our separate journeys through depression. She has done so much better since reading that it helps to give yourself a symbol to watch for--that reminds you of something good, or that you will be fine, whatever. That's my understanding of it, at least! But she began to notice yellow butterflies around her, everyday. And I can attest to this. I have been with her every where and noticed yellow butterflies appear out of nowhere in the air, or on paper, pottery or photographs. It's uncanny.

My own process is the careful sewing and pressing of fabric. It brings me back to earth, out of the flights of anxiety that seem to take me off my feet. As much as I didn't feel like getting started, it helped me immensely this February to return to a project I abandoned in the spring once I got gardening.

And while I was sewing and pressing, sewing and pressing, I had time to ask myself what is at the root of my anxiety? Why, oh why, after years of calm, am I so shaken?

I always ask myself if my actions are in sync with my beliefs. As soon as they are not, I spiral into a bit of a funk. I just really can't stand how I feel in the pit of my stomach. And this is possibly because in the past my actions were out of line with my beliefs. I can't tolerate it now. So if it is a social situation where I find myself behaving differently around certain people, whether to impress or to show off, I am a basket case. I have to step back from some interactions but I am still processing and figuring out how to do it.

And in my forwarding a draft of a story around, and getting my feelings crushed in the process, I have to admit that I was searching for an "atta girl" rather than truly seeking growth and learning. It was tough but to be a writer one must find a thicker skin. I'm going to get better at detaching!

Over and over again, when my belly tells me something is not right in my world, I ask myself whether I seek meaning or approval. Have I been hoping to get noticed? Would I like recognition, praise, admiration? Or would I like to work on myself from the ground up, from the calloused feet to the greying hair, and be the very best version of myself that I can be? Because I won't find my best self in someone's compliment. I'll find it when I unplug from distractions, keep my family close and let into my world people that are on the same journey.

If you have ever suffered from anxiety, I hope that it helps you to find a hobby, activity or symbol that comforts you when it gets bad. Retreat from the noise, if possible. Practice things that calm you down. Talk to someone. It may help to explain to your kids what is going on, if you have them. They may end up traveling a similar path and it can only help them to remember the ways you coped and were open about how you felt. At the same time, don't burden them with too much information. Keep it age appropriate. I'm not a professional, so seek out professional advice. My situation is mild and only pops up from time to time. But there's no reason to be ashamed.

The other night, with Daddy going back to work for 10 days in the morning, I explained to my 7 yr old that I always make us special food the day that Daddy leaves. To make us feel better. Because it is sad when he leaves. And it's okay for us to feel sad. But it is also important to realize why we feel sad, and do things to make ourselves feel better. For us it is board games and stories, chicken nuggets and popcorn. Hey, whatever works, right?

I'm out of my February Funk. Rising back out of the Deep. At the same time, I'm ready to face the year with renewed determination to unplug from what distracts and upsets while still learning about and fighting for causes that are important. I can't fight every battle for every person and remain whole. But I can fight for some and save myself in the process.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Weekly Column: A Routine Saves You Money

Routine saves you money

Have you ever had a day where you spent far more money than you had planned? Of course, there are always days where unexpected things happen—break downs, accidents, unplanned-for expenses. That’s a reality of life. But what about the days where you leave the house as usual and yet, every time you turn around, you are opening your wallet for unnecessary, incidental spending?

Why did you end up spending on those days? Could it be because you were in a hurry, flying from one obligation to the next, without time or energy to properly plan how to get through the day without overspending?

A disorganized morning might lead to sending the kids money to buy their lunches. While you’re rushing around, a coffee and breakfast sandwich from a drive thru might get you through your stressful morning. Why not treat yourself to lunch? After all, you woke up behind the game and by this time your breakfast has worn off, leaving you feeling hungrier than ever. After work you meant to get groceries but forgot about junior’s practice. Just grab a quick ready to serve meal and rush on to your evening of obligations, leaving groceries for another day. You will have to repeat this process in the morning because there’s no food for a proper breakfast or to make lunches. Does any of this sound familiar?

The fact is, it costs money to be unorganized. Everyone has days where a whirlwind suddenly takes over, so don’t feel guilty. But it’s a simple fact that frugality takes effort. Yes, some people have a natural tendency to watch how much they are spending. But they do the work to back it up. And most of them would admit that they don’t like chaos, and being prepared helps them cope with what life throws at them. While this preparation might include savings and retirement plans, it also includes small daily things like having meat thawed to cook for supper or keeping some meals frozen for hectic days. It might entail keeping a bag of trail mix in your glove compartment rather than zipping through the drive thru whenever someone gets hungry (which is all the time if your kids think they can talk you into it!).

Late payment charges, take out meals, unnecessary trips to the store (or town if you live in the country) could mostly be avoided or eliminated by getting organized. Please note—missing a payment because you don’t have the money is different than missing a payment and being charged interest because you forgot about it. If you wish you had more time and money and feel that you should be doing better with the money you earn, perhaps it’s time to take a serious look at your routine.

It pays to get organized

In many cases, sticking to a regular routine prevents splurging and overspending. If you can plan a weekly grocery day rather than popping in to the store whenever you think of something you need, you are likely to leave with fewer impulse buys. Likewise, keeping a list of what you need and running most of your errands in one or two trips every week also curbs the temptation to stop for a coffee, grab a bite, or check out a store while you are out.

Essentially, putting some thought into what you need beforehand helps you stick to a plan (and budget) while you do your business around town. A benefit of being more organized is that you might have more time at home doing things that you might otherwise hire out, like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, dog walking or house cleaning.

Prepare your morning coffee the night before, lay out the kids’ clothes, do a ten-minute tidy-up before bed. If you can eliminate a bit of chaos from your routine, you will allow yourself the time and clarity to make better decisions through out the day, including how you spend your money.

Write it on the calendar

Many businesses give away calendars or day planners at the start of the year. Look around for these freebies, or try setting reminders on your phone or computer. Only spend money on a day planner if you really intend to use it. Remember, all of the little gadgets and apps you buy to help organize yourself add up. Commit to using one and check and update it daily.

Add work meetings, kid’s events, bills and paydays to your schedule. Plan around the most hectic times by getting prepared beforehand. Schedule in your grocery shopping. Make menu plans. Keep daily and weekly lists of what you must get done. You might find there is more time for fun, too. Be more efficient with your time, and efficiency with your money will follow.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Weekly Column: Growing Healthy Families

Growing healthy families

Most parents will admit that it can be a struggle to have their kids in extra-curricular activities. Even when money isn’t an issue, fitting everything in is a challenge. Between practices, games or recitals, travel time and any volunteer commitments that come with the chosen sport or activity, there is little time left in a week to complete homework and have some relaxing downtime with family. Many of us are left wondering, how do they do it all?

There was a time in the local area where many families didn’t have to consider the cost of sports and activities for their kids—it was a given that they would sign up for any and all programs that the kids were interested in. But that wasn’t the case for everyone. Even in the best of times there were local families that had difficulty paying for high rent, the increasing cost of food, not to mention extra-curricular. Nowadays, more and more families fall into this category. The question is, then, how do you find the right balance of afterschool activities if you are finding it hard to pay for everything?

What do the professionals say? tells us that kids aged 1-4 should have 180 minutes of physical activity spread out through every day. Kids of all ages need a variety of activities that include inside and outside time, exploring, discovering and interacting with people of all ages.

Likewise, kids aged 5-17 need an accumulated 60 minutes/day of moderate-vigorous exercise as well as several hours every day of light activity that is both structured (guided) and unstructured. For school-aged kids one might expect that those objectives are being met in gym class and on the playground, but that doesn’t give parents the go ahead to park their kids in front of the TV or computer after school. Experts recommend that kids get no more than 2 hours of screen time/day, along with regular, uninterrupted hours of sleep. Ages 5-13 should be sleeping 9-11 hours every night and 14-17-year-olds should get 8-10 hours and everyone should stick to consistent bedtime/waketimes.

No pressure, parents, if you feel like there’s no way to manage it all. Focus on the fact that none of these essential activities need be organized or expensive. Playing dress up, building forts and trips to the park are as desirable as an organized sport. Family walks, playing catch, shinny or soccer together keeps you in touch with your kids at any age.

Follow their lead

This is not to dispute the fact that organized sports are good for kids. They inspire teamwork, build friendships and confidence and can be favorite childhood experiences. In fact, having kids on a team helps your whole family feel part of a larger community. Sit down with your kids and discuss what they are most interested in. If your child wishes to give a sport a try but you worry you can’t afford to make it happen, look up In 2015, Kidsport gave over $65,000 to help 327 kids in the Lloydminster area afford to play sports.

For Saskatchewan kids that might have a more creative side, parents don’t despair. They still need the outdoor and active time, but there are many ways to engage the little artist without stressing the family budget. Take part in library activities, check out camps at the Barr Colony Heritage Cultural Centre, and google crafts and science experiments. Engage them with some sensory development doing finger paints, dancing to music and writing and illustrating their own stories. If they are interested in a more structured, organized class, check out to see if you are eligible for funding to help pay the fees.

It's up to you

Staying engaged with our kids, knowing what they are interested in and doing activities with them, will build their confidence and keep them communicating with you as they get older. Whether an activity costs money or not doesn’t determine the quality of the experience for your child. Do you talk it over with them? Do you show up to watch? Do you help them practice? In other words, do you take an active interest in what your kid is up to?

Midwest Family Connections has an array of activities for little people. The Lloydminster Library has stories and crafts, and visiting the library and reading together is one of the best things you can do with your kids at any age. The Lloydminster Community Youth Centre welcomes kids between ages 12 and 18, offering recreational activities, community supports and a safe place to make new friends. Your income may have taken a beating over the last few years, but that’s no reason why your kids can’t maintain healthy activities and be part of a larger community of like-minded people.   

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Weekly Column: Cooking Collectives Save Money

Cooking collectives save money

Not everyone leaves home knowing how to cook, nor how to shop for easy, healthy ingredients. On top of that, many families are smaller these days. Buying in bulk might not be feasible for an underemployed person supporting a spouse with, say, two small children. In many cases, there is considerable savings when buying in larger quantities. But what if you can’t afford that? On the flip side, if you normally cook for a number of people, there may be ways for you to save on groceries, time and effort. As we all know, it’s difficult to make changes and learn new skills, especially when you are under pressure. So how can people join together to address a basic need in the community—building the skills and buying power to enjoy healthy, affordable meals?

Collective or Community Kitchens

A Collective or Community Kitchen is a small group of people that gets together monthly to plan, shop for and cook meals. The members and leader meet based on their schedules and the availability of a space to cook in, and childcare if needed. Participants do contribute to the cost of the food and bring their own containers to take food home in.

A Collective Kitchen is an opportunity for people to learn more about safe food handling, eating a balanced diet, budgeting, and working together. In addition, it gets people out of their homes to plan, shop and cook together, building community while also giving people the chance to try new recipes and gain confidence in the kitchen.

Cooking at home

There is no way around it, if you can eat you need to learn to cook. It is a basic life skill, possibly one of the most important ones. Use a collective kitchen to inspire you to cook more at home. Yes, dishes and clean up can be a pain. It can be hard to find time to keep the fridge and pantry stocked. There is a drive thru on every corner these days and our bodies have become trained to crave those fast calories. But even without considering the budget, it is healthier and therefore very important to prepare food at home.  Once you factor in the cost of take out and ready to serve food, it should be clear that getting into a routine of cooking at home will help your waistline and your wallet as well. Participating in a Collective Kitchen is a step towards a healthier, more budget-friendly lifestyle.

A family affair

Would you like to encourage your kids to learn about nutrition, budgeting and cooking, but don’t know where to start? Kids in the Kitchen may be just what you are looking for. Allowing kids to take part in their own kid-centred group allows them to learn by doing and gives them a sense of accomplishment with every meal. You may find they are more willing to eat food that they have handled and helped to prepare. As an added benefit, your child may become more interested in helping in the kitchen and more appreciative of home cooked meals.

Increase your buying power

Food banks in Alberta and Saskatchewan report that usage is up significantly over the past couple years. People are struggling to make ends meet and that includes keeping good food on the table. Luckily, there is a local program that might help, called the Fresh Food Box. At $10 for a small box and $15 for a large, this is an affordable way for families to purchase quality fresh produce. You also receive a recipe in every order. Order your Fresh Food Box on the first and third Thursday of every month (at #201-5001-50 Ave). Pick up is on the second and forth Thursday of the month at the Lloydminster Native Friendship Centre (4602-49th Ave).

There are so many benefits

Most cultures celebrate by cooking and eating together. As social media takes the place of face to face interaction, some of those family and community connections are being lost. Along with them are lost the joy of sharing, the pride of displaying what you have created, and the pleasure of companionship. Collectively purchasing ingredients and preparing food is a great way to reconnect with your community and meet new people. It is also a great way to introduce your family to new recipes and working together in the kitchen.

Collective Kitchens are suited to many different groups, whether it be kids, new or expecting moms, seniors, those with special needs or even those with special dietary concerns. Cooking and eating together with people from your community fosters friendship and co-operation.

For more information on Collective Kitchens, Kids in the Kitchen or the Fresh Food Box in Lloydminster, contact Midwest Food Resources at 306 825 2606 or

Sunday, 29 January 2017

On Getting Older, Frugally


There's just a whole lot of gray in my hair these days.

On top of that, the lines under my eyes don't smooth out, no matter what concoction of filler or revitalizer or primer I use. The line that I noticed crossing my forehead in my twenties has deepened and invited a couple of friends to hang out there full time.

Not to mention whiskers.

I don't want to rain on the parades of any pert twenty-somethings that might be reading this, but getting older can be ghastly. I once bragged that, for a gardener, I had no problem with cracked feet like many gardeners that I know. Within a couple months my big toe developed a painful fissure and now I struggle to keep it from getting sore whenever I work outdoors (which is basically all summer). Of course I don't have scientific proof that cracked heels or toes has anything to do with my age, but it's another glaring example of how I feel like everything is changing as I barrel towards approach forty :)

Does this mustache make my nose look big?

When I was pregnant with J I didn't colour my hair, paint my nails, or do anything that involved chemicals. Same with my second pregnancy, with O. After we had J there was really no money. When my last drop of hairspray was gone I didn't buy more. I used up all the last partial bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash etc that we had in the back of closets and in the bottom of suitcases. None of my clothes fit. I continued to gain weight after having the baby and, like most new moms, my world was upside down as far as sleep and routine were concerned.

I'm not complaining. Those baby years taught me a lot. For one thing, I was absolutely certain that we would be okay money-wise. I often said that at that stage I wasn't able to earn but I could do my best to save and that I did. We paid off Husband's debts, his dirt bike, his truck. This was while we had bought our very affordable house in a small time and did some updates on it. All the while, I didn't have hairspray and finally I ran out of foundation for my tired looking skin.

And I resented it.

At some point I began to feel that our success at paying off debts was coming out of my own hide, if you will. I actually signed up to sell Avon so that I could get the discount on the products that I wanted. I am still using them (got most of them for free and they've lasted all these years with my infrequent use), although I didn't cut it as a salesperson ;)

Slowly, over a few years, I began to buy a few pieces of clothing and now have a winter and summer wardrobe that, while not flashy or expensive or overly "hip", I am comfortable wearing. My friend dyes my hair in exchange for baking or meals (my mom is also a hairdresser but she's so busy all the time I try not to bother her with one more job). My point, though, is I have found that I am happier when I feel like I've pampered myself a bit or at least paid some attention to how I look. And, as a very frugal person, I think it is important to draw the line when frugality starts to make you unhappy/unappreciated.

As I see myself starting to look older, I have to acknowledge that this is the start of the next phase of my life. Yes, I'm frugal. I buy literally nothing that isn't essential or food. I especially don't buy much for myself, and that is a choice that I no longer resent. Because I have an almond scrub that I use on my face from time to time, and a tube of blue mask that makes my pores look so much better. I moisturize. I exfoliate. I use a toner and a primer and I finally threw away the eye shadow I bought in university (gross, I know).

I guess my point is, you can take care of yourself in a frugal way. I'm sure I will never get a day at the spa and I don't need that to be happy. I'm quite sure spending that much would make me ill. But I CAN do a few little things as part of my routine that make me feel better about myself. The main one is exercise and fresh air. A big one is adult conversation. And I'm finally admitting that trying to look nice makes me feel happier and there has to be a place for that in my frugal routine.

I read blogs where the women wear all thrift-store clothing and have forsaken make-up. Good on 'em. If they still feel beautiful (and believe me, they are!), then by all means I think that is wonderful. I think you need to find your comfort zone. If you are resisting cutting back on spending in one area, question why that is. In my case, I might spend $100-200 on clothes for myself in a year. Other years I might spend $0, yes, $0. This year I bought an $89 winter coat because the one I was wearing is misshapen from 2 pregnancies and I've been wearing it for over 8 years. It's very good quality and very warm (alpaca) so it's still in the closet, but...I felt dowdy. So I bought a new coat. I also got the winter boots I wanted because they were $100 less on a boxing day sale and my old ones were so worn down on the soles I kept wiping out on ice. For some people, having the money to buy new winter gear is something they dream of. I never lose sight of that. I have waited for 8 years to buy a new coat because I really didn't "need" one. This year I bought one because continuing to wear the old one had started to bring me down.

I don't want to resent the sacrifices I make for our financial goals. I also don't want to look tired and wore out.

I shop thrift stores, folks. There's not always something that fits or looks good. You put this body in a summer dress that is 10 years out of style and it is embarrassing. I don't spend much on clothing for myself but, when I do, I make sure it is something I will wear and feel good in. Yes that might be a hand-me-down from a friend or a thrift store find (love it when that happens!). But if I need a piece of clothing I will also watch for sales and shop around until I find what I need. No apologies. That is why I save. I buy absolutely nothing we don't need and I count our pennies. I do this mostly so that we have emergency funds for when Husband is not working (it's somewhat seasonal so there are down times to be expected every year). If times are tight, I am obviously not going to go buy myself something to wear. During those times I can do a home facial, using the drugstore products that I've had for years, and still feel good.

When you live frugally, especially if you are just starting out, it can get to feel like a lot of sacrifice. But a beauty regime is not much different than anything else--the more work you can do yourself, the more you can save. Buy a home waxing kit and skip the salon. Try colouring your own hair or ask your stylist if she works from home. Do your own nails. Go on Pinterest and look up a homemade facial. There are ways to pamper yourself and feel good without spending much. If you let your frugal endeavors steal your sparkle, though, there is a good chance you won't stick with it. Maybe it is better to allow yourself a few treats here and there and stick with the overall goal.

What is your opinion? Do you think it's okay to splurge a little, when the money is available of course, to feel better? And, if so, what is it that makes you feel better? Notebooks? Nice pens? A book to read? A new hairstyle? Coffee out? I'm interested!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Weekly Column: Some (late) financial resolutions

This post was written before Christmas but was not published until the new year. It's actually interesting to read and think about new year's resolutions a few weeks after the fact--does anyone remember what they were?

Some financial new year’s resolutions

New year’s resolutions are notoriously short lived. When thinking of one’s finances, it’s foolhardy to count on a midnight wish to bring about any real change in your situation. That said, if you have run into trouble or just want to take a more serious approach to handling your money, there’s no time like the present and the start of a new year is as good a time as any to begin. Rather than just hoping things will improve, there are some strategies that will help you turn your resolutions into real action.


Perhaps you’ve heard that goal-setting is more effective when you follow the acronym SMART. If you would like to pay off a credit card, say, just the vague notion that you would like to do so doesn’t mean that you will. You stand a better chance of achieving your goal if it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.

In our example, paying off a credit card won’t happen unless you make a plan to do so. Be specific. How are you going to come up with extra money every month to pay down the debt? Make your goal measurable: how much, realistically, can you put towards that debt every month? This goal must be attainable in that if you put every extra cent against your credit card you may end up having to use it again to cover expenses. Remind yourself why this goal is relevant to you. It may seem painful to cut back spending or take on extra work to pay off the card, but doing so is saving you the interest and allowing you to put that money towards other bills, savings or recreation. To actually succeed, you must give yourself a deadline—the time-based portion of this goal is to decide when you want the card paid off in full and then follow through.

Baby steps

Don’t set yourself up for failure. Have a realistic look at your situation and note areas where you think you can make some positive changes. Perhaps you would like to spend less on groceries. Maybe this is the year you quit smoking or use your treadmill daily. Whether your focus in the new year is on your finances, your career, your health or your relationships, you must keep your goal in the forefront of your mind to succeed. Tweaking your routine ever so slightly can contribute to your accomplishment. Park further away from the door in large parking lots and take more steps in a day. Boycott the drive thru and bring your own travel mug of coffee from home. Calculate how much you save and put that amount towards a debt. 

Educate yourself

How much time does the average person spend making funny faces on snapchat or surfing the Internet in a day? There’s a multitude of more useful things to do with your time. Rather than reading the latest celebrity gossip or checking Facebook, how about resolving to learn more about personal finance this year? If you feel you don’t have the time, try leaving your cell phone on a high shelf and retrain your attention span not to reach for it every ten minutes. You might be surprised how quickly you can read a book or magazine when you stop distracting yourself.

Track every penny

If there is one new year’s resolution that will absolutely help you get control of your money, pledge to record every cent you spend. The old expression “take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves” is as relevant today as it ever was. There is no way to put a dent in your debt load if you have no idea where your money is going every month. While your cell phone is on that high shelf, go through your bank and credit card statements and get a good look at your spending. You may be surprised how much money is trickling between your fingers.

Get help

Some problems are bigger than a new year’s resolution can handle. The stress of job loss, debt, making the mortgage and, frankly, paying for Christmas can be too much for even the strongest to bear. If you or someone you know is beginning to feel isolated and like there’s no hope, get help. This is a terrible time for some, but with support you can weather any storm. Contact the Alberta Mental Health Helpline (toll free in AB) 1-877-303-2642 if you feel you can no longer cope. Contact Credit Counselling Canada and arm yourself with trustworthy, professional financial advice. Knowing what needs to be done can’t be as bad as worrying about the unknown. Let 2017 be the year you take control of your future, whether you make resolutions or not.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Weekly Column: Have an emergency plan

Have an emergency plan

Anyone that depends on the oil patch or agriculture for their livelihood knows that during certain times of year payday just doesn’t come. An overly wet, drawn out spring break up or a disastrous harvest can leave many area residents scrambling to make their payments.

When you are self-employed, an emergency plan is a must because you aren’t eligible for unemployment. But even if you are an employee with a seemingly secure job, saving an emergency fund is an essential part of anyone’s budget. Having a line of credit with the bank does not count as an emergency fund. If you dip into your line of credit you must have the funds to pay it off before interest sets in or you’ve only managed to create a real emergency by using it. The interest may be lower than a credit card, but incurring more debt because you didn’t save is no plan at all.

What is a real emergency?

Needing winter tires in October does not constitute an emergency, and shouldn’t drain the reserves of money you have set aside for the unforeseen. The same goes for that warm vacation or the larger screen TV. Experts recommend keeping 3-6 months worth of your necessary expenses saved for calamities like illness, job loss or any event that prevents you from having an income for an extended amount of time. Seeing what has happened with the price of oil, many people can say from experience that having a year’s worth of expenses saved is a better idea.

Regular car maintenance like tires is a predictable expense. If you have a vehicle you must anticipate that it will cost you money and save accordingly. Saving for emergencies has to happen in addition to saving for regular expenses that happen in life. Yes, shingling your house will be a major expense but if you are on year 30 of a 25-year shingle it is time to start thinking about how you will pay to redo your roof.

Don’t be emergency prone

In other words, be proactive. Have a look around your house, yard and family to identify what is coming down the pipe. Is your eldest planning on college? Youngest needing braces? Maple tree touching a power line? No one is saying it’s easy to save for all of these possibilities plus the depressing prospect of losing your job, but it does take the lustre off another trip to the mall, doesn’t it? Before you spend unnecessarily on “wants”, have a realistic look at your “needs”. While expenses like mortgage, power and water are obvious in the budget, make sure that you are also saving for the less common (but no less expensive) eventualities that should not be paid for out of emergency funds.

This column is such a drag

It can be hard to squirrel away money and not touch it. Over time, people relax and begin to look at their emergency funds as spendable cash. But doesn’t it make more sense to hide that money on yourself and begin a different savings account—one that can be touched—for all the things you would like to purchase?

It’s not that you will never get to eat out again in your life. With careful saving, watching for sales and a lot of patience, hopefully you can find a balance between delaying gratification and getting your financial ducks in a row. Yes, planning for a stable future will likely mean some sacrifices now. It is a lot easier to eliminate some discretionary spending before an emergency strikes than to try to save money in a scenario of restricted income. Put off painting your house. Make do with the mismatched appliances and last year’s winter coat. Get some emergency funds in place before you spend on things that can wait.

If you’ve honestly looked at all the money you spend in a month and can find nowhere else to make cuts, pat yourself on the back and keep searching for ways to make a little extra. Divert any extra money to one of two places—paying down your debt with the highest interest rate and saving for the unforeseen.

If you regularly spend your entire paycheck without contributing to emergency savings (and don’t have any money set aside for a real crisis) please sit down with pen and paper and determine how much money you would need to pull yourself through an unexpected job loss, illness or accident.

Preparing for the worst doesn’t mean you wish for it to happen. If you are very, very lucky you may never use that emergency fund. But having it and not needing it is sure preferable to needing it and not having a penny set aside to back you up in hard times.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Sweet Sunday

We took the new camera out for a spin yesterday. By the time we had fed and bedded down the animals with extra straw (cold snap coming on) and hauled some wood, our faces were too cold so we only made it to the end of our lane before turning back. You can see how gray and dismal it can be in winter, but I do love the frost. It doesn't show up as beautifully white in these pictures although I'm sure there's some way of tinkering with them that would fix that.

My 6 year old will soon be 7 and he's been invited to a couple birthday parties of late. He was picked up by his little friend's dad and went with them to a movie a few days ago. Today he was off with a different family for laser tag and a romp at an indoor playground.

It is so very, very nice to see the little guy making friends and excited to go have an adventure without mom and little brother along. O howled to hear that he wouldn't be going, and I confess that a part of me howled to see him being driven out of the yard today. It suddenly feels too fast, this growing up thing. A couple years ago he had some health problems and wouldn't leave my side. We were lost without each other then and now what am I to do?

O needed a special day with Gramma, seeing he couldn't go to the party. Of course, it had to be without mom along too. So I happily spent the day writing, writing and writing. An entire day flew by and I didn't do housework beyond outside chores and hauling wood. I am finding more time to write, finding more time and fewer distractions. It's what I want and need. Today was bittersweet, but mostly sweet, as I had a few hours to myself and my kids had their own adventures without me.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Weekly Column: Have a Reason Why

I am indebted to bloggy friend Frugal Desperado for the original post that sparked the idea for this column. Moreover, I'm always indebted to my favorite bloggers that take time to write about their frugal adventures and also to all those that comment here. Thank you for reading and commenting!

Have a reason why

In your circle of family and friends, you can probably think of a few individuals that always seem prepared for an emergency. They don’t live a flashy life but, instead, quietly put aside money for retirement, family vacations, education and unforeseen events. Although these conversations rarely happen, if you were to ask those folks why they feel it is important to save their money you might get a variety of answers.

Many people would simply reply that it is how they were raised—living within their means and saving for a rainy day is second nature to them. Others feel that they must be self-reliant because there is no one to bail them out if they get into trouble.  Most realize that government pensions won’t be enough to live on and so are planning for their own comfortable retirement without being a burden to their children. Many want to leave their kids a legacy that will help them have a stable future. A good portion of this financially prepared crowd would say “all of the above”.

At the same time, you may know some people that do not yet have their financial wish list in place, but they are working on it. This group has come to realize that incomes can fluctuate and it’s important to control spending in order to accommodate those fluctuations.

If questioned as to why they set aside money for tomorrow rather than just living “in the moment” and spending everything they make, this group may have many of the same answers as the group discussed above. But you might also hear reasons like they need to pay off student or consumer debt in order to buy a home, they want to travel and live worry free. Perhaps they want an income property or to put their money to work for them through investments. Like their more financially stable counterparts, this group of people has a goal in mind and actively pursues it through controlling spending, paying off debt and, when possible, saving their money.

If you look hard enough, among us there is also a group of people that feels it is impossible to control their financial situation. There may be a variety of reasons for this sad outlook. Perhaps an individual is in a relationship where one spouse controls and mismanages the money. Many people were ill-prepared for the downturn in the economy and feel powerless to correct their state of affairs. Divorce, death, lawsuits, foreclosures or countless other calamities can understandably sour your viewpoint.
Even though the future may look bleak, it is still useful for people who feel buried by their finances to have reasons why they want to get things under control. Is it so your kids can have a better life? Or so that you will not have to feel worried and stressed as more bills pile up? So that you aren’t always on the brink of disaster? So that a small crisis like a flat tire doesn’t create a domino effect of overextending credit, interest charges and inability to pay for daily essentials?

For this latter group, the question is not only why—why try to get back on your feet, get in control, overcome these financial hurdles—but also how. How can you eventually count yourself among those who are consistently paying down debt and making progress towards goals like home ownership, a good credit rating, some money in the bank? Where on earth will you start?

For those who are completely overwhelmed by their financial problems, there are organizations that can help. Go to the Credit Counselling Canada website to find a credit counselor near you. Yes, it will be stressful to lay out your paperwork and truly confront your situation, but not doing so causes even more stress and ensures the trouble will follow you long into the future.

There are other community resources at your disposal. AlbertaWorks and CanSask have offices in Lloydminster to help residents with job searches, training and assistance. 3A Academy helps people improve workplace and job seeking skills. The Lloydminster Learning Council provides a number of affordable programs for the public. And don’t forget the local library as one of any community’s most important sources of information.

For those who want to reach financial stability, having a goal is the first step. Keep your goal in mind as you make a plan to achieve it. Reach out to reputable, non-profit community organizations for help. Be honest about your situation and get the referrals and resources you need. Once you have been pointed in the right direction, use your “reason why” to stay motivated. Accumulating debt can happen fast, paying it off is going to take time, hard work and commitment. Think of a good reason to get started.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

On the Homefront

We are slowly adjusting to "real life" after the haze of Christmas holidays. I really crave my routine when it is upset by things like holidays and vacations. Although the rest and visiting is great, I can't help but allow my diet and exercise to eventually slide. I did much better this year than most. Through it all I managed most evenings to do at least 10 minutes on the elliptical trainer to combat the bloat. At many of the potluck and family meals I was able to fill my plate half full with vegetables. It really did help prevent my feeling lousy and gaining a bunch of weight (3 lbs at last check).

I am slow to get a budget done. My mind is full of ideas and happy intentions but I feel like there won't actually be time to do any fancy spreadsheets or write a great post about it. Basically, the plan is pay off the camper by end of summer.

When the camper is paid off, the monthly over payments will be applied to the new truck until it is paid off. Then, the mortgage. Being mortgage free would mean we can relax and Husband doesn't have to travel far and wide working. We could afford for him to have a lower paying, local job and be home every night and do normal things like coach hockey and ball and get groceries for me ;) I could work, too, and with a double income (though probably still lower than what he makes now) we could still live comfortably and save for a decent if not adventurous retirement. These are all the plans that are rolling around in my mind. But first, the camper.

Husband has a company and I pay him out of the company account. I try to maintain the company account balance at a certain amount which includes several months worth of company expenses (money for taxes, insurances, truck payments) plus several months pay for him personally. Of course, if he is off work for any amount of time the money very quickly depletes and we revert to what I call a bare-bones budget. After years and years of doing this I don't lose sleep (as often) and I have learned to have faith that we will always get by one way or the other. I recognize that not everyone is so lucky and I can empathize with the stress they must be under. While it might sound good to have "several months" saved up, it is my goal to have a year's worth of money saved, both for ourselves and the company. An accessible way for us to save, personally, is to consistently move money into our Tax-Free Savings Accounts (a financial goal from last year was to get Husband set up with a TFSA, which I did).

Because the company is taxed at a much lower rate than we are personally, it makes more sense to leave as much money as possible in the company account and invest it from there (corporate investment account). One of my financial goals last year was to set up a corporate investment account that I could move money into when it felt safe to do so. I am very proud to say that I managed two such payments of a decent size last year.

So to clarify what all of this means, I pay Husband as little as possible because as soon as that money comes to him personally he is taxed on it at a rate of 30-35% (guessing). As long as it is in the company account, I can access it if need be but pay lower taxes (possibly around 13%? I'm hopeless with numbers). So rather than paying him lots and letting it sit in our savings account, more money is left untouched in the company account. When it rises above my magic number, I skim that off into the investment account.

Investing money from the company account into the corporate investment account rather than into our own savings and TFSA, RRSPs etc means we save on company taxes and aren't taxed personally at the higher rate. But out of our own personal money we are still contributing to Registered Education Savings Plans for our kids, each of us has RRSPs, plus our own investment portfolios (another goal was having Husband set up with personal investments in 2016. I'm starting to feel like I did pretty good last year!).

So, back to the camper.

My challenge is to hone my household budget down as strictly as possible so that I can still make a number of sizable over payments on our camper without paying Husband more out of the company account (and paying more in tax).

Since I already pay us fairly closely to what our expenses are, there won't be a pile of wiggle room but that is the challenge. Saving on groceries and reducing our discretionary spending, cutting the satellite dish come spring, doing some side jobs personally, all of this will contribute towards our goal of paying the camper off ASAP. Because of the interest. And because I am uncomfortable having more than one loan (besides our mortgage) at a time.

It is important for me to note that from the monthly amount I pay Husband I also need to save for birthdays, Christmas, 2 small vacations, skating and/or hockey as J has declared he wants to try hockey next year. I drive an 8 year old truck which will need replacing eventually. We have property taxes and home insurance due in the spring. Basically, there are a lot of things to save for. Even just writing this out has convinced me to make time to do up a proper budget to keep it all straight.

I do find this all a bit overwhelming. Without steady work we would go from possibly paying something off to, instead, being relieved that we are even able to make regular payments while paying the interest, saving less, and doing without the extras. And that could easily happen. BUT. And this is a huge BUT. Having the singular goal of paying that camper off by the fall of 2017 gives me the incentive to save more. Resist temptation. Eschew splurging on non-essentials. Get creative about making money on the side. Trade. Barter. Borrow.

I think I will leave you now and go sit down with a very sharp pencil and start combing through statements. I am sure that I can find ways to cut our spending and reach our new 2017 goals. I plan to do this by:

1) Menu-planning to save on groceries
2) Reduce fees and service charges if possible
3) Make more money on the side (future post on this subject!)
4) Have No Spending Days Weeks Months
5) Use cash back air miles and PC points to have at least one month's free groceries (put that month's grocery money towards camper)
6) Get very creative planning our family vacations to minimize spending while maximizing fun
7) Purge and sell unnecessary and unwanted belongings
8) Use cash and gift cards that we have on hand
9) Make it do or do without!