Posts tagged ‘frugal lifestyle’

Can you afford free travel?

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Living a frugal lifestyle doesn’t have to be without its perks. One of my favourite things to do is travel.  I know that for the budget wise often the most realistic travel plans involve escaping the kids and pets for a bath, but there are ways to go a little further.

Most of my travel has been through the use of points. I’ve used Aeroplan, Air Miles, Save On More points and points from my bank. I’ve used them for everything from free B.C. ferries trips to a return flight to London that ended up costing me $50. A one way flight from Vancouver to Victoria would have cost me more. I’ve also used air miles for hotel stays and car rentals.
This has been a great way to travel but the question I always get is how to accumulate the points? For Air Miles I watch my local Safeway flyer for bonus points and use their pharmacy for 7 x the points. Thankfully I am in lousy health so those rack up quickly! I watch for the mail outs that include high miles bonuses. The temptation is to buy items that you don’t need because of their high points value. You end up spending much more than you would have if you had just bought a ticket or you end up with enough toilet paper and paper towels to build a replica of the Great Wall of China.
Air Miles also offers the option of reducing your required points by using a sponsor’s credit card. Having the World Mastercard discounts 25% off of the required number of miles. Traveling in low season further reduces the number.
While this helps to build the numbers gradually the quickest way to travel is through the bonus offers from credit cards. They will offer thousands of points if you sign up for their cards. The concern is what this will do to your credit rating.
One of the best sites for finding these deals and answering this question is the Credit Card Fly, http://www.creditcardfly.com. It explains the concept and process of credit card churning.
http://creditcardfly.com/fly-for-free
Another site, “The Broke and Beautiful Life” by Stephanie O’Connell has an article on the same subject. FYI she has a great book out also called “The Broke and Beautiful” life.  It mixes useful advice with with humour and warmth.  It is the sort of financial info. that wears adorable shoes rather than a pinstrip suit. She’s one of us.
http://thebrokeandbeautifullife.com/travel-hacking-affect-credit/
The caution is that you need to be very organized to use this system without racking up unnecessary card charges. Most of these cards have yearly fees with the first year waived. That is great if you remember to cancel the card before the year is finished. I personally have only applied for cards a few times and made sure I wrote in my calendar the date I needed to cancel. You also need to give yourself enough time before you plan to travel. This doesn’t work if you want to travel on short notice. Some of the deals require you to spend a certain amount within a 1-3 month time period in order to get the deal. This works well if you were planning on getting the house painted or replacing some appliances etc.
Living a frugal lifestyle doesn’t have to mean doing without. It is about choosing and planning and finding creative ways to achieve your goals.  In the meantime I’m heading for a bubble bath with one of my favourite traveling books “The Ex-Pat Harem”.  Time to dream.

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.

Can’t Afford to Coupon

You have seen this movie.

Slowly the hero enters the darkened passage.  He scans the shadows and suddenly there is a sharp noise.  He whips around to confront the danger.  It turns out to be a cat or an old rocking chair. He breathes a sigh of relief, realizing there was no real menace, and relaxes.  He turns back. Before he can even react it’s too late.  He is taken down by a  claw, a tentacle or an old school mate inviting him to a home sales party. Either way he is hooped.
Welcome to my January. I made it through Black Friday until just after Boxing Day. Even with the best of intentions I got hit with the January desperation deals and I bought things that were nowhere near being on my “without this we will become hobos” list. (This is not meant in any way to be critical of or unfair to members of the hobo community considering that without careful planning I could one day be carrying my possessions on the end of a stick.)  Knowing that I have some financial needs that do not fit in the budget I knew that I needed to take some drastic action to get back on track.

Where do I start?
It means I can’t afford to get great deals. I cannot afford bonus points or couponing, at least for the foreseeable future. IMG_0256 I know. I hear the tense snipping of the scissors and feel the disapproving stares as the coupon clipping continues at a furious rate. Heretic. I know that in the U.S. with double coupon days and stacking you can often go home with free stuff. My dilemma is that I am good with free but cannot afford a deal. I already have enough detergent, hair products, and pasta. A good buy is still using money for things I already have.
I learned a secret at a Mrs. Smith seminar, couponer extraordinaire. She said that most coupons come in three month cycles. If you have enough to cover that time frame you do not need more.  The truth is that I can’t resist the deal so I have to get rid of the flyers before I look at them.  It is just too tempting.
So what do I plan to do now that I have little suction cup marks all over my face from the last tangle with the lure of the great deal?
I am planning a “No Spend Month”. (It is more fun if you capitalize it and put it in flashy little grammar markings. I could have used an exclamation mark but I’m saving that for later.) I have ten days to strategize how to make this a success. I will share my battle plans with you. I’m going to have to get creative if I want to succeed. Let’s go savings! Momma needs a new washing machine.

Better Living through Free Stuff – Welcome Wagon

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.

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