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.

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

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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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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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.

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

At the end of last summer i had an unexpected and hasty move.  I ended up in a smaller place in a different part of town.  It had good bones but the decor and damage were more grunge than glam.  Most of my time was spent fixing and replacing rather than settling in. As I was nearing the end of the process I was walking though my complex and was greeted with  a cheery hello from our local Welcome Wagon rep. Constance Zacharias.  She asked if I’d had a visit since I moved in and I said no. I realized I was just now past the damage control phase and was ready to explore me neighbourhood. What I did not know was all of the great things that were in the basket. Besides the info. on bike paths, recycling schedules and the community centre there was a wealth of gifts. We ended up with tickets for the local events centre and my son and I took friends to see a local junior hockey game.  We picked up a free cake at the co-op to entertain these same friends and I even picked up a free pillow for the guest room. There was everything from free key cutting, a free hair cut and style to a 4 litre of milk.  I told my friend who’d also recently moved about the service, and we used our $10 local grill certificate to have a low cost lunch together.  By my calculations this was about $100 in savings.  I have yet to use my coupon for a free ad in the local paper or the several other discounts but you get the idea.

If you have recently moved do not hesitate to call Welcome Wagon and learn more about your community and enjoy some great gifts.  I have to go now and pick up my free flaxseed oil.

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It Pays to Ask

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

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

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

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

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

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