Archive for the ‘using what you have’ 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.

Don’t Wanna

There is nothing so frustrating as dealing with crossed arms, a protruding lower lip and a scowl deep as an underwater trench. There is no reasoning with it and it is exhausting.  That was me at lunch.

Yesterday as I was driving home I had a wicked urge for fried chicken. Today I woke up with my first thought being that chicken.  I would love to say that my self-discipline alone was enough to prevent the purchase but luckily I had lunch all ready to go and I knew I’d have to blog about it. 🙂 The impulses for immediate gratification didn’t go away once I decided to change my life. I was only distracted from them.  One of the best tools I have is to surround myself with the voices of others with the same goals.  I go to the veteran fighters, see what they do and try and emulate some of their moves.

One of my favourites is Mary Hunt http://www.everydaycheapskate.com/marys-perspective/quiet-the-urge-to-splurge/.  She has ongoing facebook updates with articles, books and a website.  The Year of Less blog, though no longer updated, had daily and monthly challenges and everyone seems to be buzzing about a book called “7” by Jen Hatmaker.  All these bits and pieces help when my impulses are having a temper tantrum.

One of the things I liked in the Year of Less blog is the intention to make one small change each day.  It causes me to think and deliberately pick something to improve.  Some days it has been as minimal as sorting out the junk drawer.  Today I’ve been tired and really out of sorts.  Today I think I will take a sampler of baby steps.

I will mend one shirt, reduce my wardrobe and my son’s wardrobe my one item each, and put on a five minute timer as I tackle my filing.  In honesty I still really want that fried chicken and onion nuggets but I will finish the night with a nice cup of hot cocoa and be in bed by 10.  My mom used to say that with cocoa and a good sleep things are always better in the morning. She was usually right. Thanks mom.
Do you have favourite sites you follow to encourage you and help keep you on track? Feel free to leave a comment on this post.

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.)

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.