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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.

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.

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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.

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.

The Booking Process

“One of the most terrifying things that has ever happened to me was watching myself decide over and over again – thirty-five days in a row – to not return a movie I rented.”

“I like being a woman. I also like being friends with other women. I don’t, however like being thrown in with people you don’t know and don’t want to be with, but you are all going to share this intimate event with glee. If it kills you. And that’s how I feel at this bridal shower.”

“It was Miss Somer’s turn to make the tea. Miss Somers was the newest and most inefficient of the typists. She was no longer young and had a mild worried face like a sheep.”

I was challenged to list 100 things for which I am grateful.
One of them is the feeling of being captured by a book. There is nothing like finding something that first attracted you with its cover or title and then knowing, within the first paragraph, that you’d found your latest adventure.
You know when it happens. You are already up too late or need to leave for an appointment but you need to read just one more page (chapter). You know you’ve found a good book.

Growing up we moved a fair bit and reading was my passion. I loved the play of language and imagery. Books were friends that always moved with me.
When I got married I had approximately 800 books in my room and had to make a choice between the book shelves and him. It was a close race.

In watching the budget I am so grateful that with a free library card I have access to a world of entertainment. I can spend hours browsing the titles and discover authors I never knew and books to suit my need for laughter, distraction, fantasy or learning. If I want I can just go on line and order whatever book I’d like from within the system and have it delivered to my local library. I can borrow movies or music as well but it is always the books that call to me. I love to curl up with a book, carry it with me in the car, and have it as an always available dining companion.
I am so grateful for the connection and insight that comes from books.
When I’m feeling boxed in because of finances I can get myself to the library and travel vicariously, laugh until I snort, get inspired to learn a new language, or allow myself to be enchanted.

Wishing you all the richness of a good read, Deb

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

The Return of the Pantry

Well I know that the “Eat Your Pantry” month challenge is over but I feel like I still have a long way to go before I get to where I need to be in terms of food and money.

One of my biggest indicator was that on October 1rst I went face down into ordering Chinese food delivery AFTER having already hit the drive thru at lunch.  The next day I had a bad food hangover and my body was cursing me every which way.  My wallet spit a flurry of receipts at me and the chicken legs I should have prepared were conspiring to give me food poisoning.

Clearly I have a way to go.  Some of the things that I did learn were that even if I ‘m eating from my pantry I had strong urges to fill up any of the empty spaces immediately.  I also started to slide into just eating from home rather than getting at the rest of the things in blocks of ice  at the bottom of the freezer.  One of the things I need to do to stay accountable is to write out my daily  spending totals.  Just for myself I need to see what I am spending as the sales are still a real lure for me.  I’m thinking that eight bottles of toilet duck are probably enough.

Now if I can keep my fingers off the airmiles and Save On More Points specials I can make some progress.  Well, time to make some cherry soup and plan my next few meals. I am in negotiations with the chicken. Wish me luck.