Archive for the ‘frugal’ 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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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.

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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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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The Gift of Red

This blog is primarily about frugal living. That being said, the ability to spend less than we make is a many tentacled wonder. Some of my worst spending decisions come when I am tired, stressed and depressed. Most of the year I can glide by with canning, crafting, thrift shopping and humour. At this time of year the days are shorter, the seasonal affective shut down code is punched, and I feel the need to make it “the most wonderful time of the year”. (I will now have that ear worm playing in my head all day). I start to droop. I hit the drive thru or buy the packaged food. I sleep more, indulge more and spend more.  My ability to make wise financial decisions in compromised.
My emotional well being hits my bottom line.  
I realize that most of us intuitively know this but how does this help?  Knowing and dealing are very different. I will share one positive perspective that does help. There is a verse in the bible that says, “Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”. No matter what your beliefs there is truth  here.  Gratitude.  It is a key to taking control of your perspective.
You know the things that weigh you down but what about the things that buoy you up?
I was recently invited to take part in the 100 days of gratitude challenge. What if you kept a gratitude journal? Write down 5 things for which you are grateful. During the day think of different things to write. This will keep your mind on your blessings. Share these with chosen friends and family. Blog them or Facebook them or another outlet of your choosing. You need to dwell on them, express them and share them. It will shift your focus and give you a fighting chance.
I have a great deal for which I am grateful so I will start with the colour red. All my life I believed I could never wear red. I was told it did not suit me. A few years ago I met a man who saw me differently. As we walked through a local market he picked up a red scarf and said it would be beautiful on me. I started to object but he put it on me and said it was perfect and bought it for me. There were no mirrors except for his eyes. I felt timid at first but I wore the scarf every day. Eventually I started adding the colour into my wardrobe and felt joyous. He had given me the gift of the colour red and I am grateful.
I wish you all a season clad in the garments of praise.

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Regifting – The Gifts That Keep on Giving

When you are penny pinched Christmas can be a time of high anxiety.  Being broke doesn’t mean you are cheap.  It also doesn’t mean you have to continue to make ash trays out of plasticine for your parents and hope they find them cute. Note to you: your parents don’t smoke and you are in your 40s so no it is not going to be cute.  The temptation is to succumb to the dark side of gift giving, the regift.

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Regifting has received a bad reputation because there is an underlying tone of deceit.  You are hoping the gifter doesn’t realize that the home taxidermy kit with starter hamster was not a success.  Did a gift tag from the giver get stuck in the pages of the book, or worse, the folds of the lingerie?

What if you took the secrecy out of the deal?  What about a regifting theme for Christmas?

I am not talking about a white elephant swap.  The very name means you are giving someone uncle Fred’s toupee glue, and by the way, Fred wants that back.

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A real regifting Christmas means you still put the thought into the gift but you just go shopping at home.  You know that sweater your sister is always stealing out of your closet?  Why not wrap it up and give it to her?  Does your best friend admire your earrings? Suprise her with something you know she will like.  What about one of your favourite books or a book that you own that you know your mom would love?

In my kitchen I have two loaf tins, 4 cookie sheets and 3 muffin tins.  Who needs three muffin tins?  Why not bake a batch and tuck them into a basket with the muffin tin, the recipe and if you are running with the theme, the dry ingredients for the next batch.  If everyone is regifting with the intent of sharing something they think the other person will love it is all good.  Even if you give someone something you received from them, chances are that they bought it because they liked it too.

Just because you are penny pinched doesn’t mean you can’t give generously.  Remember, if you really miss the item you gifted it could always come back to you next year.

Merry Christmas