Archive for the ‘living with less’ 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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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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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.

 

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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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.)

Fair Trade

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”.  This is one of the few lines of Shakespeare that most people can quote.  I’ve even heard it quoted as being from the bible.  It’s not and for what it’s worth neither is “God helps them who helps themselves”.  Regardless of where it is from it is something that is engrained deep into the North American psyche, but is it wisdom or anti-community?

I still remember being in grade 3 and loaning one of my Paddington Bear books to a girl in my class.  It was one of a set and came in its own decorative cardboard case.  She never gave it back.  I still remember her name.  She moved away. Every day the hole in the case reproached me and it felt bad.  Six years later this same girl appeared in my high school.  I recognized her instantly and I wanted to bolt up to her and say, “Give me back my book. You have my Paddington book. You shouldn’t have kept it.”  Needless to say it didn’t happen but I remember the shock to my system and how it felt.

In the blog “The Year of Less” one of the recent ideas was to borrow. The idea is that not everyone needs to buy every item you will ever use.  In theory we would borrow from each other and play nicely.  If you have family nearby and you are semi-functional then having communal items is a great idea.  I found myself getting anxious as I contemplated the idea of asking to borrow anything short of an egg or 1/2 cup of sugar which I knew I would quickly replace.  As for loaning, watching Judge Judy, it seems to be a sure fire way to lose friendships and incur hard feelings if anything goes wrong, damage or loss, and then trying to reconcile the bills.  It hardly seems worth it.  The problem is that we don’t need everything we have and it is a waste for us all to own our own turnip twaddlers when none of us probably twaddles on a regular basis.

I am not saying do not lend items to friends but my early experiences taught me to only lend what I could live without and which are not treasured items.  Out of print books that feature pictures of me refusing George Clooney’s proposal stay on my bookshelf.  Dresses that make me look two sizes smaller are not going on your body.  My grandmother’s handmade blanket stays by my side.  As for the other stuff what I suggest is fair trade.

I need to borrow a wheel barrow and i know the neighbors have one.  On occasion they have hired my son to mow their yard.  What I will propose is that Josh will mow their yard in exchange for the use of the wheel barrow for one day.  If that works we both win.   One of the other things I do is a book box.  On Saturdays at our local hospice thrift paperback books are .25 cents.  It is easy to grab a few.  I used to take these with me instead of library books in case they are damaged or lost. Library books stay in the home.  If I like a book, after I’ve read it it goes in the box.  When I get together with girlfriends I bring the box and they can take what they like.  They can pass them on or give them back to the thrift.  Eventually they started doing the same.  It is a habit I fell out of but I think it would be a great time to start again.

In theory I think lending and borrowing could work if you have like minded friends who are all in agreement and there is an element of fair trade.

I think that this is the sort of principle I can live with.  I’d love to hear other people’s opinions of borrowing/lending.

Thanks, Deb

Sept.29th Growing my Pantry

Today was one of the wonderful fall days here in Langley. There were a lot of community events like the Artists Studio Tours, prepping for next week’s Cranberry Festival and the one I staked out, the Apple festival.  The weather has stayed warm and sunny and I gently persuaded my 14 year old to join me “Get in the car.  We are going to celebrate apples. It’s a family bonding time. One day you will remember this fondly.  By the end of this you will be able to tell the difference between damage done by a cutworm moth or just plain scabs. Imagine! I bet none of your friends can do that.”  In awe of the implications my son chose not to make eye contact and put on his earphones. I think he needed a minute to prepare himself.  I didn’t want to overwhelm him by talking about the tour of the historic apple orchard and that it was on the heritage site of what was intended to be the capital of British Columbia.  It is on the banks of the Fraser River at the Derby Reach historical park. It’s where they used to have signs saying, “stay back from unstable cliffs” until too many people went behind the signs to see what was unstable and had accidents.  There would be people in Voyageur dress and the chance to get your picture taken milking a wooden cow cut out.  I had to be careful not to speed.

You may wonder what this all has to do with pinching pennies and eating from your pantry.  Did I mention that the event was free?  In all seriousness I was looking for some real information about apples.  One of my greatest joys in my yard are my two apple trees.  They are grafted hybrids and different limbs can yield different species of apples.  There is nothing like twisting a fresh apple off of my own tree, washing and eating it.  It is the ultimate in organic, healthy eating, eating locally and saving your budget.  In the same vein I planted 6 blueberry plants a few years ago but they have given up in dispair.  I was hoping that I could learn how to nuture my garden.

As soon as we arrived it felt like a movie.  There were fiddlers, people in period costumes, and tents filled with visitors in their khakis, sweaters and hiking shoes.  The first tent had varieties of heritage apple slices to sample.  Each apple was labelled for its name, taste and useage. Some were for eating, or baking or storage, or even cider.  There were the tours and we got to taste apple pears, Northern spy and just missed out on Banana apples.

The find of the day was the tent with the trees for sale.  My heart started pounding.  These were heritage trees that had been grafted and carefully grown and were for sale.  Even better than that, the staff was there to explain how to plant, prune and feed the trees.  I learned that I could prune in the middle of summer. A vigorous trimming was completely all right.  Then I saw the handout.  “How to care for your blueberries”.  I learned that just about everything I’d done to my plants guaranteed a lack lustre harvest.  Could it be that I had a glimmer of gardening hope?

In the end I talked to the man at the last tent and realized that the cutworm moth and scabs had both come to visit and there was not a lot I could do but leaf curl, HA!  Your day is numbered.

I left with one golden plum tree and one golden russet apple tree.  I went to a free event and spent $70.

Thoughts:  It is great to try and grow your own food but it needs knowledge to make it work.  Putting some focus on producing fruit for my family and friends feels wonderful and helps stretch the staples in my pantry.  It will be a while before this is a reality but attending more events where I can educate myself opens up more opportunites to take control of what I can offer.  Information sets you up for success.

Time to gather some apples so I can make some strudel.  Hhm maybe some apple butter would be good too.

Sleeping with the Enemy

This last week has been a nasty kind of hectic and left me bone weary.  This is usually the worst time for me to try and eat healthy and look after myself.  Money usually streams through my fingers and it all goes to food or the rough equivalent.  I know when I am exhausted and stressed I eat solely from the four basic food groups: drive thru, delivery, frozen and Pepsi.

I have had a shower that refuses to shut off on request, a backed up sink with a belligerent blockage, the tenant’s kitchen tap burst and his bathroom tap could not even rinse his toothbrush.  I had to bring paperwork to Canada Government Services, complete a type of audit for Revenue Canada and more forms for yet another branch of Federal Government.  The toughest part was that my lupus was flaring and created a titanium strength fatigue along with a wisp of the blues.  Each morning I felt like I’d just pulled two all nighters and couldn’t focus. Even dressing/getting ready can take up to an hour.  Sometimes just lifting the pots and pans were too much and I’d sleep for 14 hours at a stretch or more. This would usually be the perfect storm for bad eating.

 What came next was a surprise.  After spending Monday racing from place to place it was already 2:00 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch.  I thought about the foods available at the local drive throughs and something happened.  I realized I didn’t want them.  I thought about what was in the fridge at home and my brain started putting together a meal. In fact it was a far superior meal to what I could have bought.  All during the drive home I expected that at the last minute I would think of something I would prefer but it didn’t happen.  I  found myself pulling into my driveway and going inside.  Now for the non-addicted ( as in addiction being used as a term to cover lazy and unhealthy behaviour that I routinely choose) this is normal.  For an exhausted stress bunny this was exceptional.  I found this pattern repeating itself for several days.  OK I did breakdown and get a small hamburger and fries at McDonalds at 10 pm one night but I had just met with my ex-husband’s new wife for the first time.  (She turned out to not only be beautiful but an amazingly nice and authentic woman.  I even forgave her for being so slender. )

I know I’m not out of the woods with stress eating but I think I am slowly turning my pantry into my go-to place for food.

Thursday- $5.34 spent on 4 litres of 1% milk for Josh.  Lunch was naan bread with sauce, cheese and Italian seasonings.  Dinner was lazy beef stroganoff on egg noodles with red peppers and a side of carrots.  Cinnamon buns for dessert.

Even though I’m getting to the end of the month and the end of the “Eat Your Pantry” challenge from the Year of Less I know I need a lot more practice before this becomes a permanent habit.  I still have a lot of goals yet to attain and I need the accountability so we will see where I can bring this to and be happy even if I am penny pinched. 🙂

thanks, Deb