Archive for the ‘frugal finances’ Category

Confession: The No Spend Month Aftermath

I’ll admit that I haven’t blogged about my no spend month to a point that is highly suspicious.  I had intended to do weekly updates.  I somehow expected that week one would be the honeymoon phase and by week two I would look like this.

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It didn’t happen.  So what did happen?  I think the truth of it is that I got rattled.  It sounds stupid when I say it out loud (thank goodness I’m just typing.)  I had my food lists and my menus.  I knew what perishables were OK to buy and I felt good.  I think I even adopted a benign almost Jedi- like smile knowing I had no longer a mindless drone targeted by the consumer death star. Cue music.

It started with something small.  Josh and I decided to use a gift card to go to a movie.  It included snacks so we were good to go, at least until we got to the cashier. Eight dollars?  For what?  The movie was only being shown in 3D so it would be an upcharge.  I honestly felt ill.  If I’d been by myself I think I would have gone home.  This wasn’t the plan.  I thought I was in control. After that there were unexpected school fees, a minor repair and getting stuck somewhere for the day where I needed to buy food.  None of these should have been in surmountable but somehow it shook me.  I maintained staying away from most grocery shopping but the dark side offered cookies and I took them.

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It’s taken me a little while to figure out what happened but it is simple.  I have a tendancy to be all or nothing.  I will climb that mountain, achieve excellence in the field of excellence and have those thinner thighs in thirty days.  I grew up in a culture of leadership worship.  You needed to define what made you special. A lack of ambition was a vice.  It made sense. The generation before had had to work so hard to make it that we with our privileges should be world shakers.  I didn’t realize I’d brought so much of that into this.

It seems terribly dramatic for something as simple as a month of strict budgeting but it was more than that.   Once I put aside that this wasn’t a race to be won I took it for what it was.  It was to be a new habit, a new perspective on my relationship to money and food.  It was also a spotlight on my need to validate myself with measureable success. I had to accept that I will not be asked to lead the rebels to live outside of the Empire’s control.  What I will do is take my participant ribbon and give it some respect.  I managed for the most part to use what I had for meals, not go shopping for clothes, except that one bra after a wardrobe malfunction, and find a new source of income.  I wanted something big and finite.  A penny pinched lifestyle is not about an iron control but being able to flex with your situation.  It is also something beyond a quick fix.

So now I am midway through March.  I accept the challenge as a learning time with no pass or fail and I am good with that.  Anyone in the market for a slightly used droid?

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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.

How to Achieve Maximum Savings

image   One of my go-to blogs is called Debt Proof Living by Mary Hunt.  This was her Facebook post today. I admit that I love the search for the deal.  Right now the flyers are overflowing with huge savings, meaning savings off of prices you wouldn’t have paid before the sale.  The real way to save?  This artist nailed it.  Wishing you many 100% savings. Happy New Year to all, Deb

New Year’s -Setting the Bar Low

Year’s ago I saw an episode of the Simpsons (don’t judge me) where Homer was given an award for excellence in the field of excellence.  All through university we were encouraged to be leaders in our community, the best of the best, blazing new pathways, bold going where no man had gone before, no wait.  That last one wasn’t us.  The point is that nothing short of earth changing was a suitable goal.  As we stood there in our M.C. Hammer pants, our mullet haircuts shining in the sun, our collars flipped up, we knew we were almost at the pinnacle of humanity.  New wave music and glam rock were forever.  We had arrived at a time where our earrings, belts, purses and shoes matched.  What higher plane of being could we achieve on an evolutionary scale?  The cruel truth of our delusions was completely revealed years later when the movie “The Wedding Singer” came out and we saw ourselves as others saw us.  It was a rude awakening.

As we approach New Year’s Eve we look at our resolutions.  We shoot to scramble up that sheer rock face of our daunting goals with grit and determination.  The problem is that if you are not used to the exercise you are going to pull something awful.  Your sciatica is going to flair and you are definitely not dressed for that kind of weather.

What if you start a little closer to where you are at?  What if you set achievable goals?  Why not a little stretching and a walk around base camp first?

With your eating instead of saying you will never eat out again and you will make all of your food from scratch maybe you can plan dinner two nights a week and eat out once a week.  You know you are going to eat out so find your weak spot and make a realistic goal.  What about one fresh soup a week?

For fitness instead of training to be a marathon runner how about a local walking group or how about a walk around the block?  Set goals you can see yourself doing rather than ones that look good on paper.  Instead of pump, rip and smash it is OK to shimmy and wiggle.  Embrace your velcro closing sneakers, the hoody with the missing string and yoga pants that have never seen the inside of a studio.

Financially you could collect your receipts and have them in monthly envelopes so you can review your spending and be more realistic about where the money is going.  You will spend something on yourself so give yourself an allowance that is in a cash envelope. Find your real level of frugal.

Feel guilt free setting the bar low because you know you can step over it and keep going.  Wave your participant ribbon proudly because this year the list is going to mean something and that is excellent. Rock on my people and happy New Year’s.

 

Boxed In

I don’t know how many of you are still out there but I promised myself I would try and reach as many of you as I can. Time is short. Some have already fallen to exhaustion and will be woken with shrill cries, demands for tribute submerged in a haze of carbohydrates and sugars. The frenzy of wrappings, colours, people and conversation may make it impossible to think clearly. You are being conditioned my friends.
How do I know? Because last year that was me and I vowed to share my story so others do not have to make the same mistakes.
You can call me Deb because that is my actual name. It seems like only a year ago I was celebrating, unwrapping yet another low fat cookbook, which was starting to make me a little sensitive, and hitting the hot cocoa pretty hard. I was feeling no pain, except for the damage to my self esteem, and was relaxed. I was too relaxed. As I sat at the table, under the pile of newspapers I saw the edge of something glossy. Why was there no music in a minor chord to warn me of the danger? I’m always the one at a movie to notice the music when someone heads for the basement door or walks into the woods in high heels. No. There was no warning for me. I pulled the sheet towards me and there written in thick black oozing blood, I mean ink, were the numbers. It said 70% off everything (with the illegible writing saying that it did not apply to anything that you wanted, that you had to ask a clerk to help you find, non-toxic, non GMO, in your size or in style).
I started to shake and quickly check the time. It is only 20 hours until the Boxing Day sales started and I knew I needed to be in that line. Where was the sale? It didn’t matter. Did you not hear that it was 70% off? I’d never been to Hank’s House of Hinges but they were giving out free organic ragweed blend knitted scarves with every $200 purchase. How is that not a deal? I don’t remember that day well but if you come to my home you may notice that everything moves well. Too well.
It is too late for me to unplate the damage but it doesn’t have to happen to you. It doesn’t matter the discount. Defend yourself by making a list before you look at the flyers and if you do not have anything on the list get rid of the flyers without looking at them. Yes I know they compel you to look. In history there has been the dreaded three, the basilisk, Medusa and the Boxing Day flyers. The peril is too great. I have purged the house of these papers. The inbox. No. I must empty the inbox. Why do I hear music? Nooooo.

Let There be Peas on Earth and in the Stir Fry

I will admit that there can be a rather chilly detente that occurs in my refrigerator.  There are certain shelves that see a fairly brisk rotation of items. These spaces are the accepted free trade region.  To the sides are the condiments that are the story keepers, the elders of the fridge that rarely cede their spots to newcomers.  In the crisper I do my best not to let the denizens liquify but how much parsley do I really need?  Oh sure I could freeze it but as long as it is visible I can tell myself I am going to make a fresh and healthy soup.  It is a green leafy badge of clean eating superiority.

So what has this all got to do with being penny pinched?  I admit that some days I am intimidated by my fridge.  I open it and see random supplies and am not sure what to do.  I might see one dish for a meal but I get a little sketchy on how to make it reflect the food rainbow.  I’ve been told a handful of M & Ms does nothing to meet the requirements of the bottom of the food pyramid.  Elitists.

That being said I realize I will never balance my food budget or dietary needs without some help. I had gotten into the habit of buying new food because I didn’t know how to use up what I had.  This is where I found this helpful tool on allrecipes.com.  I had been looking for the perfect cornmeal muffin recipe and I noticed that one of the search engines was to list the ingredients I wanted and also the ones I did not want.  This opened up a lot of possibilities.  I decided to haul everything out of my fridge.  Green Peace launched a formal complaint as the contents of the veggie crisper were being considered as a part of a self sustaining eco system but I prevailed.  I found recipes that would use up the scraps of cooked chicken, 1/2c. of green beans, red pepper paste and pearl onions.  I began to make headway into hostile territory and dismantle the peculiarly stacked architecture of tupperware, take out boxes and ziploc bags. (In my defence there was really only one takeout box but the visual image was too cool not to use).

I also found that Pinterest became a great place to store recipes that worked for me with veggies where I was lacking a bit of imagination.Translation: I sometimes need encouragement to not settle for just meat and potatoes.  The photos help.

This new year coming up I am setting Friday as ifits day.  If it is in the fridge then that is what’s for dinner.  If it is still there the next week it is time to shuffle it off to that great compost pile.  My goal is for a couple of empty shelves because I learned to use what I already had.  Now to go back into negotiation with my tartar sauce who is staging a sit in.  Wish me luck.

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Guilty Pleasure’s Annoying Cousin

Christmas time can be the discount bin of emotions.  There is the occasional gem but there is a lot of stuff that is no bargain. Yes I am talking about the neon leg warmers of feelings, guilt. In recent years I’ve been a little more savvy in my approach to my finances for Christmas.  I put aside a set amount a month and create a budget.  By Christmas time I know what I have to spend on everything from gifts, food, travel and clothes.  Since I know the amount I will have, my brain has a framework and things seem to slide in rather neatly.  That is the financial side.  The other part, the emotions thing, can occasionally grinch it all up for me.  It doesn’t just leave me with a curled lip patting my little dog while looking down on Whoville.  It tends to push me down the mountain and bundle me in any layers of guilt I might roll across. In the past the temptation was to spend without a budget because I didn’t have any money anyways.  Excellent logic.  Now the temptation is to purchase that one extra thing.  I say I do this because I want to give and that is true.  I say that those I love are worth it.  They are but honestly I also want to feel good and pretend that I’m not as pinched as I am.  Gift giving season makes me think about my finances and I don’t want to.  Worse I do not want anyone else to know that I cannot buy them the ultra deluxe turnip twaddler with the GPS feature.  This is when the worst of the guilt appears. It is the irrational guilt, the things over which I have no control, the things I should not carry, that jumps right into my shopping cart.  This is the big ticket item. Out of anything you pick up this season this is the one you cannot afford.  You have to put it back.

The real harm in this sort of guilt is that it usually brings its seedy little friend judgement.  We label ourselves for things that are out of our control.  I feel guilty for not being able to live up to some artificial standard. I feel I have failed and it must be my fault.  Rationally I know this is not true and it is this truth that has to guide my feelings and behaviour.  I have to switch from distorted thinking to accurate thinking.  A great blog post on doing this is Renee Jain’s                                     http://blogs.psychcentral.com/stress-better/2014/11/forget-positive-thinking-try-this-to-curb-teen-anxiety For this Christmas season I want us all to receive the gift of freedom from unreasonable guilt, the freedom from judgement that should have never been.

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It Pays to Ask

I love most free stuff.  I do not say all as viruses, spam and grey hairs are free but unwelcomed.

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated my birthday and that is when a number of companies offer discounts or freebies if your get on their email lists.  IHOP offers a free stack of pancakes, Boston PIzza offers a dessert, Montanas has an appetizer and my favourite, Red Robin’s offers a burger.

My son’s birthday is exactly 2 weeks after mine.  I signed him up for Red Robin’s birthday club as well.  Here is the dilemma.  The coupons are good for one week before your birthday and one week afterwards. That leaves Josh and I one day shy of being able to go out and both get free burgers.

I decided to phone the restaurant and ask if I could use my coupon even if it was a couple of days past due.  They said yes!  I pressed “print” from my iPad.  Problem. The coupon only half printed out.  I went with the email and coupon in hand and to my relief they accepted it.  Big points for Red Robin’s.  We saved $21 and I made sure I tipped on what would have been the total without the coupons.  Two happy customers and a very happy server.

Next I needed a cake for Josh’s party.  I’d received a Dairy Queen coupon in the mail for $7 off an ice cream cake but it was only good for a location 20 miles away.  Since I have one 7 blocks away that didn’t work for me.  I called the restaurant and the worker was not sure.  She asked me to call the manager.  The next day instead of calling I stopped in.  The manager was happy to help and explained that though each location runs its own promotions they would honour the coupon.  Hooray!  Josh ended up with a cake that was over budget but right priced after the discount.

I saved $28 just for asking.  Now that is a happy birthday.

Can’t See the Forest for the Sleeves

OK maybe the title isn’t one of my better literary efforts but this is what happens after two days of trying to pack a suitcase and being unsuccessful.  The embarrassing part is that this is not my first trip to the rodeo (I did not just use that cliche.)  I had decluttered most of my wardrobe, matching outfits with jewelry etc.   It would have been a cunning and clever plan IF I had tried on everything first.  It also had another fatal flaw (see how I’m building the dramatic tension?).  I had a closet full of black pants and matched each one with a suitable top. Unfortunately I cannot bring 9 pairs of black pants with me and not all work with all the tops.  There are four variations on a yoga pant.  One is comfortable, a bit worn and the draw string really shows when under a top. The second is newer, has a more subtle waistband but a small paint stain on one leg. The third is a soft wide leg with pockets but keeps on lengthening due to the material.  The fourth is the newest but too figure fitting to wear with any shirt that doesn’t cover the bum.  Did I mention the dress pants with the faint pin strip in case I need to look businesslike, the flowing pants that would be great for the opera, the clam diggers or the two pairs of thick leggings with faux leather applique?  Of course I have two because the applique on one is on the side of the legs and the other is on the knees.

I will spare you the horrors of the toppings section ( I feel like an ice cream sundae), but I came back to the struggle between style and comfort.  What looked good was not necessarily what I could wear on the sort of multi climate zone trip I was going to take.  Unlike decluttering blouses and sweaters I found letting go of pants too hard.  My lifestyle requires clothes I can trash with my sculpting.  My textiles get lint on everything.  I have clothes for that so I don’t go out looking like I’ve rolled in an old man’s jacket pocket.

Bit by bit the pile of working clothes has grown out of control as well.  I justify that I can turn them into rugs one day but the chances are slim.

The truth is that by hanging on to all the “almost works” pants I didn’t realize that I did not have a basic black pant that was great.  The clutter of “must keep” clothing didn’t let me know what I needed.  Slowly I started matching the tops I wanted to take with the pants as they lay on the bed.  A clear winner emerged for the yoga pants that would serve for hiking and a slim pair for the boots that would walk me around Istanbul. The tops had to either go with one of these two pairs to make the cut.  I allowed myself one skirt and though I only have three, one is for summer, one is in a different colour theme and the lucky winner manages to work with three of the tops.

In the end I had a pair of city pants, country pants, and a skirt..

I learned I had no sweaters, no fleece, no raincoat and 16 camisoles.  Over the next few months I will try and refine the wardrobe into wearable outfits that mix and match and fit properly.   If I can also manage to get a cool hair style and balance my budget I will have pulled a hat trick of domestic bliss. I am reluctant to get rid of things that still fit.  It seems counter intuitive  but if I know what I really need I won’t waste money buying the wrong thing. Maybe the next time I want to get away I will be able to pack in less time than I will spend on my vacation.

Leaving you a trail of breadcrumbs out of the forest, Deb

Going back into the Closet, the Honest Truth

Fashion trends make my eye twitch.  How can you trust people who repeatedly tell you that the only way you dare leave the house is if you wear neon plaid and then a few months later tell you that you don’t dare leave the house if you wear neon plaid.  These people are unstable, undependable and are in the business of making us continually neurotic about our appearance.

I know this because as an artist I do check on the colour trends that are forecast for upcoming seasons to see if my jewelry designs work with the random insanity.  I then go and work on whatever appeals to me, generally metallics, textures, pieces of metal, sculptural elements  and pieces with a story.  I don’t go to shopping malls, read fashion magazines or have any respect for people that pay the price of a car for a purse. Whether it is $20 or $2000 a pen exploding inside of it will still ruin the lining and a moist cough drop will still sent it to the back of the closet.

OK.  So what has that got to do with anything?  We are talking about saving money. Here is my weakness.  I love to travel.  It is what I save my money for and when I am very careful I spend less traveling than living at home (almost, well sort of.)  I find really good deals on flights, accomodations and food.  So far so good but right now I am packing for a wonderful trip with my mom.  We will spend a week in Istanbul, I’ll be using airmiles Best Western cards for accomodations. Great.  We will then be doing a one week cruise from Istanbul to Athens that included free airfare and the whole thing came out cheaper than airfare (I will be so unimpressed if I find out we are really galley help on a Greek fishing boat). Double great.  I will get a chance to introduce my mom to one of the most important people in my life and many other friends, triple great, and they have all seen all of my clothes before. Oh. Ha!  I don’t care.  I’m sure they don’t remember what I wore, even though they are the same outfits I wore in several of the photos I took on my last few trips.  Yup, that one sparkly camisole, certainly made the rounds (in a nice girl way of course).  Yes I have worn these boots there three times. This coat is starting to look like Indiana Jones’ after the fight scenes.  I’m sure they won’t notice.  People in large European cities aren’t too aware of fashion right?  I don’t care about that sort of thing right?  Why is my suitcase inching away from my choices?  Why is my suitcase looking like it was on the Titanic?

All right this is petty but part of my spending before a trip involved a military campaign of getting the hair cut and coloured, feet done, makeup bought fresh, a few new tops, maybe a dress (or two if it was summer) and a bathing suit.  The bathing suit is always problematic because when I buy them I see myself rising from the waves like a spandex clad Venus on a half shell in glistening splendor.  When the photos get downloaded  I see a German opera singer squished into a salami wrapper.  There is no going back and pretending once the photos see the light of day (which they rarely do).  This year, at this time of reckoning it is time to stop avoiding the closet. As Dorothy learned in Oz, everything I really need is right in my own (closet) backyard.  Part of the fun of a trip is buying new things in the hope of being a brand new me, but until I am completely at ease with the me that didn’t suddenly lose 20 lbs. before the trip, then I’m not decluttering the most cluttered room I have, my own closet of anxieties.  Yes marketing and media have had a hand in that but intentional living gives me the freedom to wear brown if “the” trend is lilac.  I have to face my own ego and fantasy cravings and find satisfaction by returning to the closet. Now where is that neon plaid bathing suit? (Don’t visualize.)