Archive for January, 2015

How to have a Successful No Spend Month

Please come in.  Have a seat.  I want to show you some of the plans I made for a no spend month. What?  No I don’t think I’m being too dramatic.  Trust me I have lots of examples of that.  The only way I can alter my behaviour is to be intentional.  Here is what I needed to do.  First I had to recognize my patterns, where I spend and what to do when I feel the pull to my ancestoral stomping grounds. OK yes that one was a little over the top but I know I am going to struggle in two top areas.

First off I am a hunter/ gatherer.  I do not like the mall but I do like to hunt.  I have a favourite thrift store. It is staged every week with new things and i love to explore and find out of print book titles, vintage mirrors or sunglasses.  I drop things off at least once a week and then I swing in just to look.  The paperback books are .50 so what’s the harm? No that was a rhetorical question.

The other weakness is eating out.  I like to have someone cook for me. I like not having to take the time to prep. and cook and just be able to eat.

Neither of these things worked with my plans so I needed a default.  One of the things I did was check out some of the local foraging.  No not portaging.  Foraging for materials to make my baskets, or for alder tree buds to make salve will help with the impulse to search for treasure.  No I do not have access to a canoe or gold panning supplies.  Can we stay on track?

For the eating out I’ve pooled some of my gift cards, or coupons that offer a free anything consumable and will have them as my safety net.

Being invited out to someone’s house is OK as is being taken out but the point is not to continue in my old behaviours.  For me that means not wasting money eating out when I can cook for a fraction of the price.

To have a real no spend month I needed to take stock of my supplies in my freezer, fridge and cupboards.

I needed to plan some meals around the food stuff I already had.  If I don’t have it and I want it I have to learn to make it from scratch.  If I’m missing an item I will need to substitute.  You can barter or swap items with friends or family but try to create some sustainable habits.  For the last few weeks I’ve been writing down our dinner meals to help me come up with quick ideas.  Allrecipes.com comes with a search function that allows you to enter the ingredients you have and ones you do not want.  There is also PInterest for specific food items and accompanying recipes.  With both of those the caution is that you do not know if the recipes will be to your liking.  I am making lists of some of my favourites that match my supplies so I am less tempted to run out and yell my requests into someone else’s window.  No I do not mean a neighbors. No I will not be yelling in your window.  I’m sorry to have alarmed you.

The other thing I will have to do is throw out all flyers before reading them to avoid temptation to get a deal. I will also have to stay off of the auction sites.  I usually go to try and sell but inevitably look at what everyone else is trying to sell.

So here we go.  There is no avoiding the fixed costs of life.  The taxman frowns on that behaviour. It is the variables that are to be frozen with the exception of some perishable items.  These will be listed in advance and the list is surprisingly small.  What’s that?  Yes you are still invited for dinner.  No it will not be foraged.  You are welcome.  Meeting adjourned.

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Can you afford free travel?

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Living a frugal lifestyle doesn’t have to be without its perks. One of my favourite things to do is travel.  I know that for the budget wise often the most realistic travel plans involve escaping the kids and pets for a bath, but there are ways to go a little further.

Most of my travel has been through the use of points. I’ve used Aeroplan, Air Miles, Save On More points and points from my bank. I’ve used them for everything from free B.C. ferries trips to a return flight to London that ended up costing me $50. A one way flight from Vancouver to Victoria would have cost me more. I’ve also used air miles for hotel stays and car rentals.
This has been a great way to travel but the question I always get is how to accumulate the points? For Air Miles I watch my local Safeway flyer for bonus points and use their pharmacy for 7 x the points. Thankfully I am in lousy health so those rack up quickly! I watch for the mail outs that include high miles bonuses. The temptation is to buy items that you don’t need because of their high points value. You end up spending much more than you would have if you had just bought a ticket or you end up with enough toilet paper and paper towels to build a replica of the Great Wall of China.
Air Miles also offers the option of reducing your required points by using a sponsor’s credit card. Having the World Mastercard discounts 25% off of the required number of miles. Traveling in low season further reduces the number.
While this helps to build the numbers gradually the quickest way to travel is through the bonus offers from credit cards. They will offer thousands of points if you sign up for their cards. The concern is what this will do to your credit rating.
One of the best sites for finding these deals and answering this question is the Credit Card Fly, http://www.creditcardfly.com. It explains the concept and process of credit card churning.
http://creditcardfly.com/fly-for-free
Another site, “The Broke and Beautiful Life” by Stephanie O’Connell has an article on the same subject. FYI she has a great book out also called “The Broke and Beautiful” life.  It mixes useful advice with with humour and warmth.  It is the sort of financial info. that wears adorable shoes rather than a pinstrip suit. She’s one of us.
http://thebrokeandbeautifullife.com/travel-hacking-affect-credit/
The caution is that you need to be very organized to use this system without racking up unnecessary card charges. Most of these cards have yearly fees with the first year waived. That is great if you remember to cancel the card before the year is finished. I personally have only applied for cards a few times and made sure I wrote in my calendar the date I needed to cancel. You also need to give yourself enough time before you plan to travel. This doesn’t work if you want to travel on short notice. Some of the deals require you to spend a certain amount within a 1-3 month time period in order to get the deal. This works well if you were planning on getting the house painted or replacing some appliances etc.
Living a frugal lifestyle doesn’t have to mean doing without. It is about choosing and planning and finding creative ways to achieve your goals.  In the meantime I’m heading for a bubble bath with one of my favourite traveling books “The Ex-Pat Harem”.  Time to dream.

Better Living Through Free Stuff

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I love the word free; free style, free spirited, free meal; these are all good.
Sometimes free comes with a cost. Most of us have been offered something free that then forced us to enjoy a delightful 3 hour vacuum cleaner demonstration or a relaxing time share pitch. The value of the free watch or striped beach blanket is up to you. The box marked free at the garage sale is usually the same sorts of odds and ends you need to clear out of your house. These are not the good types of free.
Now and again I come across something that is free, or pretty close, that is worth sharing. When I find those things I like to share them as “better living through free stuff”. This post is all about books. There a lot of sites with free ebooks. Here are three I am currently haunting.
Today’s find is Bookshout!. It is an ebook app that features a mixture of ebooks with specials that are either heavily reduced or free.
Today I found a real gem. It is called “Food Family Style: Simple and Tasty Recipes for Everyday Life” by Leigh Oliver Vickery. A number of the recipes come from her friends from MOPS, mothers of preschoolers. You have to know that these recipes are quick, simple and able to please all age ranges. There were also relatively economical.
After downloading it for free I started flicking through the book and immediately found a wealth of recipes that I knew I could use. Right now I have one of the slow cooker recipes ready to go and I am definitely using the appetizers for my next get together.
http://bookshout.us5.list-manage.com/track/click?u=372f42208b83b8affe66a0c39&id=e842107a78&e=7ea888f1af
While you are there you might also want to download a free copy of Stacey Turner’s “Slow Cooker Recipes“. It has thirty recipes with a great variety of soups, some meals and even desserts. Who knew you could make cherry cobbler in a slow cooker?
Another source of free books is Bookbub. I found that sometimes an author is writing a series they will then post their first book for free to get you hooked with the hope that you will buy the rest of the series, but there is much more than that.  They will send you daily offers.  I set it to weekly.

The third one is the free Kindle app through Amazon.com. My friend Wendy Janzen is an endless source of self sufficiency wisdom. She directed me to a few free picks. “Foraging: a beginners guide to wild edible and medicinal plants” by Jill B., The Food Preserving Bible: Quick and Simple Guide to Preserving, Canning and Dehydrating you Delicious Food” by Lisa Blane, and Lonely Planet’s ” The World’s Best Street Food – where to find and and how to make it”. Yum.
Some of these offers are only available for the day they are posted so it is best to check your email as soon as you get it.

There are so many more sites. Feel free to leave a mention here with your favourites. Now it is time to check on dinner.
Happy reading and enjoy your free books, Deb

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Becoming the Stuff Whisperer

Becoming the Stuff Whisperer.

Use it or Lose it

This morning I stand in my closet of superhuman costumes and I do not know know how to choose. Today I need to be The Stuff Whisperer (Please insert your own heroic music), but I also need to be the Pied Piper of Pennies (What exactly does “pied” mean?). Unfortunately the two fight domestic disorder in different ways. Saving, upcycling, and repurposing can be at cross purposes with purging and simplifying. You may well be huddling with your picture frames that just need a good sand and some chalk paint, or the box of empty jars that would be great for votives or cookie mix gifts, wondering if you are saving the world or have unwittingly gone over to the dark side.
You may be thinking, “Leaping leftover casserole Deb. Is there no hope? Will I always have to choose between a simplified more stress free lifestyle and saving money?”
Take heart gentle citizen. There is one battle where they can unit. It is organization (cue the triumphant music).

To that end I offer a few simple ideas.
There is a lot of free stuff that comes into the house that gets tossed. In the kitchen it is the packets of ketchup, salt, pepper, paper napkins and soya sauce (don’t judge me). If they do get kept they are thrown into a drawer never to appear until they all get tossed.
These routinely get ignored in place of the purchased ketchup.  Why?  Why not use what we have?
Here is the compromise. They do you no good hidden away. What I did here was take three of my favourite pretty little bowls and place them on the kitchen table. One has ketchup, one soya sauce and one with salt and pepper. Feel free to be impressed with the groovy graphics border.

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The way I work is that to use it I have to see it. The bowls make me smile because I love their colours. If it doesn’t work to have them on the table these are stacked in the cupboard with the spices so they are not forgotten.
On the shelf below the spices lived in an unhappy jumble and I’ve often bought 2 or 3 containers of the same spice because I couldn’t see what I had. An easy fix, after you go through what is too old and needs replacing, is to have a lazy susan so that you can see everything you own and access it without tearing apart the cupboard.

I told you the bowls were cute.  I wish I’d taken a before picture of the spices below.  They were all a right mess before the lazy susan. I had three containers of poppy seeds.  I do not think I will ever bake enough muffins to justify that quantity.

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In the bathroom I dumped out everything and put all of the samples in an atrractive box that sits on the counter. These get used first. No buying new hand cream, facial cleansers or even shampoo until the samples are gone.
Getting the samples is only a deal if you use them.
These are just a few simple life hacks where simplifying and saving work well together.
I would love to hear your ideas on organizing your life to save money.
Up, up and oy veh. Oh my sciatica.

Becoming the Stuff Whisperer

Note to self: the next time I buy a house make sure it is not one of those spring loaded ones. You know, the ones where you tidy a room and within a few days the whole thing is higgledy piggledy.
For the last few days I have embarked on the great decluttering, sort of an “around the house in 80 days” thing. I do my best to have a clean home but it never seemed to stay that way. If you are a Dr. Who fan then it is like having a house full of weeping vampiric angel statues advancing on you every time you look away.  If you are not a Dr. Who fan then that example makes no sense.  Either way your house is in a permanent state of flux. Sock drawers are not the staid bastion of domestic standards you would imagine. Oh no my friends.

.mom looking at vacuum final
About 1 1/2 years ago I moved from a 3,400 ft. home to something roughly half that size. I thought I’d gotten rid of a lot of things. On moving day my task was to find out where everything belonged in my new house. The moving men would ask where I’d like random boxes. I wanted to say “Where ever it belongs. I don’t have a clue where that is. I’m new here.”
After living there for a while I decided where things needed to be for practical purposes. Now I’m at the phase where I need to decide what gets to stay and what just doesn’t belong. Again.  Couple this with couponing, free samples, upcycling, art supplies, canning supplies and a purse fetish and I have issues.
Decluttering and organizing have to go hand in hand. Here is my process. In order to organize an area I have to take everything out as most of us become blind to what we own.

Ever seen the show “Hoarders”? You marvel at how they do not see their environment. On a micro scale we can all be the same.

We assume things belong where they are because they are already there. It is like someone claiming a seat because they put their coat on that seat. 

We passively allow the volume of our possessions to determine our environmentWe need to remove these items from their locations in order to have intentional design in our living space.

Once you empty out that cupboard you only add back into the space what needs to be there. We are then left with a motley pile of miscellaneous stuff that we scramble to relocate. This is where we have to be ruthless. Yes the multicoloured leg warmers were a gift but you have 7 pair of leg warmers. Your legs just cannot be that cold. You realize you have dedicated half your sock drawer to leg warmers. The sheer numbers become oppressive and out of balance with your needs. I am not even going to talk to you about your toe sock thing you have going on. That is for you and your therapist.
My problem with things like my purses is that I like all of them. This dilemma repeats itself in each drawer and cupboard until I am overwhelmed. Here is the formula. I have to factor in space and need as well as “like”. One of the accumulation traps is that people like all of their stuff but their stuff doesn’t suit their needs. Getting rid of stuff is counterintuitive when you live a penny pinched lifestyle. I have to weigh the “I like it and I might use it” against the peace and functionality of an organized and decluttered home.

Here is the plan.

Empty the space, decide the purpose of that area, select the number of items that will be appropriate for that area and then look at the items.  Select from the “stuff” what will work within the new intentional framework.  Expect yourself to cheat.   Expect if you stay in my guest room that tucked into the corner of the closet there will be a box full of lovely little clutch purses that would be brilliant for an upscale restaurant opening or a star studded gala. Hey it could happen. Maybe.

My goal is to reduce the stress of spending most of my time managing stuff.

So far the purses have been low maintenance but soon they will get a talking to.  Signing off,  the stuff whisperer.

(Original artwork by Joshua Groom)

What Clutter? I’m using that stuff. Sort of.

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https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hyperbole-and-a-Half/103009646411654
I love the beginning of the new year with all the challenges for health, fitness and financial savings. Why? Because I can do all of them, at least for the first week. Walk a block? Done. Plank for 20 seconds? If broken into 10 second increments then I’ll say done. Clean my home? http://www.flylady.net says we start with baby steps and the first task was to shine my sink. Done. 52 week savings challenge? One dollar in the jar. Done.
For one week out of the year I am at the top of my game.  The week has passed.

Now it is real and I’ve got a problem.  I’m a multimedia artist.  That’s a nice way of saying I sometimes secretly want stuff that is being thrown out on “Hoarders”.  My son has pretended not to know me when I bend down to pick up a rusty bottle cap. Yelling “It’s OK. I”m an artist” does not appear to repair the situation.  There is potential everywhere and sometimes it find its way to my basement. All of my basement.

Being penny pinched I have learned to get discount groceries, free samples and learned how to recycle most everything that enters the house.  Old t-shirts?  Those can to used to make rag rugs, stuffed animals, cleaning cloths and little pillows. Little bits of metal can be used in sculptures, jewelry, baskets or mosaics.  Glass jars are great for storing beads, spices, paper clips etc. You get the idea.  Waste nothing!  It great.  The problem is that when I want that jar I can no longer see it. I don’t remember where it is.  I don’t usually remember I have it.

I may have thirty samples of shampoo.  Some date back to 2011. ( Hhm.  “How to Tame Your Mullet” may be a bit older). Having it is great only if I use it.  If I’m not using it, it is taking up valuable real estate.  It is actually an obstacle to being able to create, to live less expensively.   Eventually it amount of stuff becomes oppressive. It yells at you to do something with it but you can’t think for all of the other screechy little voices. It drains your energy.

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Eventually you hit weeks 2, 3 and 4.  It is time to organize.  This month it is time to create a simplified environment.  It is to stop over spending in terms of space, and energy and time vrs. reward.  Penny pinched is still going to be about getting a deal and I’m going to start by reclaiming valuable property from my stuff.  Time to clean all the things.