Sunday, August 21, 2011

Anatomy of a Road Trip Budget

My husband and I deeply enjoy driving. The "road trip" was somehow built into the core of our relationship, and travelling is something we've always done.

As much as I wish our road trips were always to exotic or adventurous locations, for the most part they seem to be visits back to where our siblings and parents live, or to visit friends that have been posted across the country. With gas prices increasing, we've shied away from taking a lot of trips for "us," and instead we tie our love for travel into knocking off visits to loved ones. (I know the "knocking off" part sounds unloving, but there's quite a few of them spread across cities, provinces and countries. We have to be deliberate to fit them all in.)

The financial approach to the road trip has varied a lot over the past few years, but we've seemed to develop a system we're both pleased with. Here's the steps we took last trip to keep the budget in check:

1) Apply the food budget from the days we'll be away to the trip.
Of our withdraw of $350 twice/month for food, transportation and incidentals, a good chunk will go to the grocery jar. If we will be away for five days, we will then take out the equivalent of 5 days worth of groceries and put it towards food for the trip. The same goes for gas. If we end up eating out a bit with family, or driving from person to person to person, we'll spend more away than we would at home for those 5 days worth. That extra money will come from our kitty, which is point 2.

2) Use the kitty.
We set aside a portion of each pay to a specific bank account that covers our miscellany. Basically the things that come out of it are clothing, gifts, and smaller-scale trips. One rule of the kitty is that we have a discussion before we dip into it, and we both try to keep it rare. Once it's gone, it's gone, and if the account ever got to 0 we'd be stuck with very little flex until we built it up again. So we try to make sure that doesn't happen.

3) Plan expenditures ahead of time.
The town we live in is teeny-tiny, with very little "shopping" to speak of. So whenever we go away, we generally end up picking up a thing or two we've been putting off for a trip. Those items are discussed, and a tentative number is settled on for how much we will actually be spending. Sometimes, of course, that number will be off, but for us actually sitting down and looking at a schedule of days can give us a pretty good budget idea.

4) Eat in when possible.
The easiest way to lose control of the budget is to eat out a lot. Again, with a small town, things like ethnic foods and high-end restaurants are hard to come by, so it's a big temptation when we're away. We tend to save the trips out for celebrations with friends and family. (This past trip we celebrated our 4 year wedding anniversary at the place we got married. Some things are hard to put a price on.)

Mostly, it comes down to planning, and being honest about numbers. The more you know ahead of time about where you'll be and what you'll get up to, the more firm and realistic a budget you can produce!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Just visiting

Today, my very first guest post at a friend's blog was published. It was kind of exciting to write about something non-financially related for a change, and while I was nervous, the very candid author reassured me that, "If I had thought you'd suck at it I wouldn't have asked you." It actually helped a lot.

When I started blogging, I felt like having a topic would keep me grounded and focused, and it's a practical enough subject that life-examples and posts will constantly come up in my life. I ALSO think it's something that not enough people talk about openly. We could all save ourselves and loved ones a lot of heartache if we just talked with candour about those hard-to-talk-about subjects, like personal finances. That's just my opinion.

Lately though, I've had situations in my life that aren't financial in nature, that I have the desire to write about. It's been on my mind if maybe I should explore some unchartered writing territory.

Whether or not I leave the financial district or not, I want to say a sincere and heart felt "thank you" to everyone that's read along with my blog, stuck it out, and cheered me on. You guys pretty much rock.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How we keep all these kids in clothes without losing our shirts: Part 2

Lindsey continues her series on affording to live on a single income with a full brood of little ones. Some of her do-nots surprised me.

Her conclusion is the epitome of "the hardest simple, straightforward fact about money." So tough. So true.

Thank you Linds!


You might not be so surprised at the tips in Part 1 of this post, as any financial website would likely give you similar advice. Surprisingly though, the money gurus suggest some things that I won’t do:

  1. Have a budget. I have an Excel spreadsheet that I use to keep track of our expenses month by month – more to see our progress. But I don’t allot a certain amount of money for each item. That’s very constricting and it causes me to obsess.
  2. Clip coupons. At least, not regularly. I don’t price match either. See point #1, the obsession part.
  3. Give up our lives. Entertainment is an essential part of anyone’s life, and we don’t cut it out just to save money. We do activities on the cheap (like, we don’t pay theme park admissions when we know the kids would have just as much fun at the park up the street) and dine at kids-eat-free places and go to events where admission’s free, but we do still get out quite often.
  4. Always pay the lowest price. I used to be that guy who would drive ten extra kilometres to save an extra fifty cents, but now I realize that my time is valuable too. I’d pay 50 cents to not have to haul three kids to another store. (The dollar value I now place on my time is what eventually stopped me from cloth diapering, too.)
  5. Worry. At least I try not to. I find that the more I worry about money, the more we spend. We recently had to replace the lawnmower and dishwasher, two unexpected expenses that made the bank account look kinda sad. This is where trusting God to provide for us comes in – the money is always replenished somehow and we make it through to the next month.

At the end of the day, raising a brood on a single income successfully depends on your priorities. If you want to make it work, you will do what it takes to not go into debt. It’s not always easy and sometimes I do want that cool thing that the neighbours have. But that thing hasn’t yet been worth going into debt over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How we keep all these kids in clothes without losing our shirts: Part 1

I am pretty fortunate in my life to have a few friends who know what they're doing with money. Usually my hubby plays my go-to example of financial smarts, but hearing and seeing DIFFERENT ways of making things work thrills me. Best of all it makes us look over how we do things, and starts discussion on what we can sharpen and improve.

I have a real-life-and-bloggy friend who is fabulous, and who has agreed to share her perspective with us. In two parts she'll describe how her large and growing family keeps themselves fed and debt free. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did!

How we keep all these kids in clothes without losing our shirts: Part 1

Last fall I posted here and here about ways our family saves money. Ally’s asked me for a more indepth look at what our family does do be able to support (soon-to-be) six people on one income, without going into debt.

We’re a military family and my husband is the sole breadwinner in the house. Our kids are 4, 2 and 13 months, and Numero Quattro will be making her arrival in October. (Yes, I’m busy.) Before we even married we discussed that I’d do the SAHM thing – it’s very important to us to raise our own kids. And we really couldn’t afford childcare for four of them anyway.

We’re completely debt-free and I’m pretty proud of that – particularly because when we married we were swimming in it. We both had student loans and hubs had a car payment, to the tune of over $25K owing altogether. I didn’t sleep well at night.

Two deployments (which bring in extra cash) and a tight fist around the purse strings is what got us into the black, even amid a stack of babies. Here’s how we do it:

1.Tithe. Yup, it’s 10% of hubs’ gross income that goes right back to God – that’s a few hundred dollars monthly that people usually can’t believe we donate. And it keeps us from wanting, as promised in the Bible. Malachi 3:10 says

“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!”

I’m not gonna not tithe after reading that. It’s always worked for us, and I don’t dare stop.

2. Buy used. Wherever possible. (I think this is becoming trendy now. Upcycling, right?) We don’t have designer furniture and clothes and housewares, primarily because we have a pile of little kids running around trying to break stuff. They don’t care if their clothes and toys are hand-me-downs or secondhand – they’re still new to them. I buy my clothes and household stuff used where I can too – we’ve gotten some excellent deals on nearly-new furniture, appliances, toys – you name it. We swap with friends and neighbours and donate or sell what we don’t need, using the proceeds to buy the kids’ “new” toys.

3. Go without. This sounds like deprivation, but to me it means to do without the material crap that fills our house and electronics that keep us “connected” 24/7. We did a lot of self-denial when we were first married, and I don’t really miss the things we don’t have. We still don’t have a second vehicle, a boat or camper, cellphones, a big-screen TV, or even a satellite dish. (People ask me what analogue cable is, like I’m fifty years old or something. Seriously?) On Twitter last week someone was shocked that I’m even alive without a cellphone. Yes, it’s possible.

4. Do what’s free. When I owned a business I taught myself basic HTML so I wouldn’t have to pay for a full website design. (Please no one ask me for design help – I’m still awful at it!) I make some of my daughter’s clothes and I do my own hemming, auto and small appliance repair where I can (I’ll have to post one day about ordering parts for a gas dryer), and I cloth diapered for over three years – anything we can do for ourselves saves us paying someone for it.

5. Put up the money where it’s required. The cheapest item isn’t always the one you should be buying. Batteries and cling wrap are good examples – the dollar store ones just aren’t as good. We don’t scrimp on household appliances and kitchen stuff, shoes or healthcare stuff (i.e. dentist/glasses/prescriptions if we need them). “Middle-of-the-road” is a good rule to follow for this stuff. We also buy a CSA, which is far more expensive than grocery store veggies but the quality and experience it grants us is worth it.

Basically, we only spend money where we have to. The first step in balancing a budget between six people is to clearly differentiate between needs and wants, and divide the fun money equally between us all.

Check back for the second part of this post, where I will share the top 5 expert-recommended things I won’t do when it comes to handling our big family’s finances.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our CSA-amazing investment

I try to tell everyone I meet about our Community Shared Agriculture basket, or CSA. A local organic farm sells "shares" in the early season, when operating costs are the highest. Once the harvest begins, members then receive a weekly or bi-weekly basket of fresh, organic, locally grown produce.
Our family split a double share with a friend, for $525 each. The baskets run 16 weeks from late June to late October.

For us to go this route, was not cheaper than if I shopped sales at the grocery store. At all. But what we were paying for ended up being a lot more than just food.

Firstly, it built up a certain amount of anticipation, looking forward to when the snow would melt, and the green would start to appear.

I guess so far the biggest payout that I feel is the interest, and engagement to what it is I am eating. Every week there's a sense of anticipation, "What am I going to be getting this week?? How on earth am I going to cook with this? What IS this?!" Sometimes I have to admit, I am a little overwhelmed at that amount of unfamiliar things I am receiving. Some of it wouldn't my first choice to cook with-but all of it builds interest.

Whenever we pick up our basket, or our friends drop them off, I'm on the internet looking up the best way to cook a hakurai turnip, and requesting recipes for kale and swiss chard. My cooking comfort levels are stretched and tested as we try to use up what we've received in the tastiest way possible. The farm we have the basket from, Rainbow Heritage Gardens, is excellent at using "heritage" or "heirloom" varieties. Purple peppers and yellow tomatoes are not something you see all the time at the grocery store, but they grow and flourish in the Ottawa valley.

Another really important factor for us, is having the chance to enjoy all local foods. When we see spinach readily in the grocery store in February, it's easy to forget that it's grown over 1000 miles away, and has to be transported by tractor trailer all that distance to show up on our plates. You have to wonder what that does to the nutrition of our food, not to mention the taste. I wanted to know what local looked like, and of course, tasted like.

For a family of 2 and a toddler, it's a lot of vegetables. I get a thrill of excitement though every time I see my one year old happily bite into farm fresh berries, or bake a sweet cinnamon loaf made moist and delicious with zucchini.

I think it's so easy for people to become disconnected to what we are eating. We forget that there is sweat and work that goes into every spinach leaf and cherry tomato, and that we are so blessed to live in a country with plentiful harvests.
The real payout in investment for me was a reconnected to the food I eat, and the people who grow it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Role Reversal

This last part of summer is an exciting time for our family. We are reunited, and enjoying play together, family and friends coming to stay, some camping, and possibly a trip down to the GTA to see hubby's side of the family.
An interesting dynamic has now emerged though, in which we are experiencing some role reversal for the first time. Hubby is on extended leave as he makes up for so much time away, and I am continuing to work part time. We've never really had the chance to try on "stay at home dad" with a working Mommy, and it's a neat perspective. Rather than shy away from the switch, hubby and I are making things interesting.

For the month of August, while he is off and I am continuing to work, hubby will be embracing the micro aspect of our budget. In the past he's described why I do the groceries and meal planning as "The person with the most patience should do that job" and it's true. It's time consuming to read every flyer, record price matching, clip coupons, and meal plan. Since I usually cook, and I know off the top of my head what goes into what recipes, it just makes sense that I do it.

It's a lot of work.

It also involves creativity as we try to spice up (haha) meal times, and truly bring a sense of enjoyment to our food. It doesn't *just happen* and I think both of us plan on making the most of the other side of the coin.

My challenge will be the beginning of August, in which my work will increase to full time. I'm actually really grateful to get a better appreciation for all my husband puts into housing, feeding, clothing and providing for us. Not every couple gets the chance to get a better view into what the other's practical day-to-day life looks like. While change of pace in itself can bring refreshment, I think it will also bring a renewed joy in the day-to-day job I get to do of raising a toddler, managing a household, and provide the best comfort I can give to out family.

Monday, July 4, 2011


I'm glad that in spite of distance, my hubby and I can negotiate. When I was in high school a teacher of mine talked about negotiation vs compromise. She said that compromise suggested both parties giving something up, while negotiation led to both parties obtaining at least part of what they want. That stuck with me. I think we're both decent negotiators, and we both recognize that we balance each other out when it comes to purchases.

My refurbished Dyson is en-route, with free shipping and a 2 year warranty, and costing just over half of what a new one would. I'm glad that Ted and I found a solution we're both pleased with, and I am SUPER PUMPED to vacuum this place top to bottom when it gets here. Review to come.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ted's Guest Blog: Part 3-Balancing Paycheck to Paycheck

This blog title should maybe be changed to Recovering Canadian Shopaholic-plus Ted. I've really enjoyed seeing his insights that I learn from day-to-day down on paper and laid out. When we got married I found there were a lot of things I didn't know I didn't know, and I am pretty sure I'm not alone. I found that to learn I really had to get my hands dirty and see how the processes we put in place work out over time. It's one thing to hear "debt is bad," but it's quite another to go through the journey of paying off debt, and enjoy the satisfaction that making better choices gives. Being a grown up, and making grown up choices are not always guaranteed to go hand in hand. For me, learning was a process, slow and sometimes painful, and not one epiphany "aha" moment. Small changes over time leads to big change.

Here's Ted!

Balancing paycheck to paycheck. Ally and I got lucky that we didn't have to think about this, but I think it made it easier to stay committed to budgeting. The goal here is to have roughly the same expendatures both at mid month and at end month, so that your disposable income is reasonably close to the same each time you get paid.
First, why is this a good thing? Imagine this scenario: At mid month pay, my credit card payment is due, so I spend very little on living. Maybe I don't even take out any "clothing and gifts" or "entertainment" because I want to pay down this high interest credit card that I got in trouble with. So here comes end month, and I don't have a credit card payment due and it's time to "pay myself". So I celebrate that I have a bit of cash and to "make up" for the fact that I tightened my belt two weeks ago. And then I go out for a meal and put it on the card "Hey, I got cash and no bills, I can afford it!". Ooops.
So how do I solve it? One way Ally and I did this was by actually knowing when during the month our expenses came out. The credit card (this is where our cable and phones go) and the car payment were mid month, while insurance and utilities are an end month expense. The mortgage comes out on the 2nd and 17th (two days after paydays). And of course there's the variable (micro) cash for each 15 day period. This leads to consistent expectations of our disposable income and no temptations to spend every second paycheck because we have no bills due right away.
It also helps to have these expenses timed to be right after pay days, so there's no need to sit on cash for two weeks to just before the next payday. Worse is taking the interest penalty and being 2 or 3 days late on a bill (which is still late as far as your credit rating is concerned) or going to a loanshark for a payday loan which costs far too much. So the takeaways are: when you sign that lease and they ask you what day of the month you want the payments to come out, give it some thought. Alternatively, give some of your payees a call and ask them to switch the due dates to something more convenient for your pay cycle. It will bring balance to the... umm... month.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ted's Guest Blog-Part Two: Limited Spending

Part Two: Limited Spending
Ted's here to finish his thoughts on building a budget. His current focus is the struggle that I have pinpointed as my weakness with money: not spending. I think I grasp fairly well the need to spend less, or spend wisely, but the perspective of truly limited spending is still a work in progress. I am endlessly grateful for Ted's vision and structure, as he keeps me within clear and marked guidelines. Here's hubby:

One aspect of macro budgeting is to focus on the idea of limiting spending. The one thing I see most people do is that they spend as much as they have (and occasionally a bit more). And when you don't know how much you have, you get into trouble. No one ever has enough – “if only I could earn a bit more, all would be well”. Hands up if this applies to you. The flipside of the coin is to spend less.

There are tricks to limiting your spending. For instance, we give ourselves only $400 for food and gas and clothing (which I still think is a bit high). While we'll likely spend all of it, we also won't spend more. Another trick was withdrawing cash. These function to limit our access to more cash than we've decided we need. Gail recommends paying yourself first, because then what's left is all you can spend. The most important advice I can give is that getting a great price or bargain hunting is NOT mutually exclusive with limiting spending. Go ahead and get all the great prices you can, so long as at the end of the week, you haven't spent more than $200. The only person you have to convince that you don't NEED that widget on sale this week is yourself.

Another critical component of macro budgeting is the time scale. I'm talking about planning long-term. For instance, when I found out that I'd be going overseas and making more than we had expected to make during this period, the thought wasn't about increasing the monthly budget or getting lots of toys, but about what happens when the earnings are saved up over a longer period with a specific goal in mind. But what goals can we chose from? Do we redo the kitchen, go on vacation, upgrade one of our cars to a van or SUV, buy matching iPhones 5 or pay down our mortgage?

Given these choices, we decided to split our income between the mortgage and the kitchen and these are the choices which will pay off the most. The kitchen, in 2 years when we sell (and really for the two years we live with it), is the medium term investment. The mortgage pay-down alone will give us nearly 100% return on investment over the 25 years of the mortgage. The vacation will probably happen too. Happy wife…

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Guest Blog By Ted: Macro Budgeting

Hubby had a few suggestions for blogging, and since his perspective/way of looking at money (and the world) is so different from my own, we both thought it would be a great idea for him to lend his own unique voice. I've really learned from him over the past few years, and I think his steering has done our family well. While our natural thoughts on money are not SIMILAR, in our marriage I have found that they can be COMPLEMENTARY. There are lots of bumps in the road to united goals, but the feeling of truly being on the same page is worth the journey.

Here's Ted:

Part 1 – Making the budget.
In dividing the budgeting responsibilities, Ally and I defined our tasks as macro - the monthly and longer term budget and the micro - the everyday living expenses on the two weeks scale. She talks about the micro budget all the time - how to stretch it or how to prioritize it. But how did we make our macro budget? Here are the steps. You can do it this evening. And so you don’t get frustrated, round to the nearest $5. Round up for expenditures, round down for earnings.

1. Find out what you pay for. Put it in a spreadsheet. These are your fixed expenses.
a. Utilities usually include water and sewer, power and/or gas. A safe guess is about $100 per month per utility. Your water and sewer combined will be half that. So the total should be between $100 and $300.
b. Mortgage or rent. How much is it? Numbers I would call normal are on the scale of $500 to roughly $1000 per month.
c. Cars? How much do you pay for a lease or finance on your car(s). $200 to $500/month? More? Do you live in you car?
d. Insurance. How much is your car and home insurance? Insured alone on my own car, I was paying $100/month. With a wife, house and two cars, we pay $250.
e. Do you have a routine debt payment? Are you sure? No student loans? What’s your minimum credit card payment?
f. Phones, internet and cable I lump in together. In the last four years, for me these have varied from $50/month to over $250. With the all inclusive HD cable package and a data plan for your iPaidTooMuch 4gs, you could be at twice that. I’m judging you.
g. Any other fixed payments?

2. Here’s how to decide on your variable expenses and reduce the variance. This is our mirco-budget that Ally withdraws in cash every payday.
a. We give ourselves $100 each in allowance; I used to spend mine on cigarettes. Ally tithes. I quit, she didn’t.
b. Spend $100/week on food,
c. $50 week on gas (or transportation) – if you have a bus pas and it costs the same every month, you can call this a fixed expense and remove it from here.
d. $50/week on clothing and gifts.
e. Some people break this down differently and add an entertainment or “other” budget. Ours is our allowance.

3. How did we get these numbers? The truth is, we guessed and adjusted for the first few months. Our number is $600 bi-weekly. (*Ally note-it's actually twice a month on payday, not bi-weekly, which equals two less withdraws/year) I think it’s lavishly extravagant. For a single, non-drinking, non smoker, this micro budget could be on the scale of $200.

4. The hard work’s done. Now add all this up (don’t forget to count your micro twice) and subtract it from your monthly income. If you’re making less than you’re spending, go see a financial advisor. If you’re in the green, you’ve got options about improving your position.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I've had a recurring theme of simple vs. complex coming up in my life. Most of it is showing itself in work, and I'm finding a new passion for being concise, to the point, and straightforward, without, hopefully, losing flexibility. I think that goal is completely transferrable when making future financial plans.

In a lot of cases, structure is good, and detailed planning is necessary. For friends that I know I working towards paying off debt, they've found a lot of guidance and help from Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University. His detailed, step by step process is outlined here:

Detail is good when implementing a budget, you don't want to overlook or miss things. I think where simple becomes really important is in the planned spending aspect of a budget. It's so easy to become all over the place in where you want to spend, with a list of 10 projects on the go and buying goals that will take a decade to complete. Now, I have learned over the past few years that goals are good, and planning is good, but I think sometimes we can get so caught up in "what's next" without leaving any flexibility. If I have my next $30,000 in expenditures planned, then where's the room for generosity? Where's the option of spontaneity or changed circumstances?

I just can't seem to get out of my head how complex modern life has become. All the busyness, and all the planning can make for some over structured schedules and stressed out families. If I pile 40 things into my week, and can't achieve them all (because the list was unrealistic to begin with) then I know a lot of women, not just myself, that would beat themselves up for not being able to "do it all." In direct response that pressure I've felt in myself, I've felt a calling back to simple. I have goals, I have schedules, I have guidelines, but I have the option to say, "that's too much" or even, "let's wait, and sit on it, and see." Forward momentum makes us feel like we are accomplishing, but sometimes so much is learned and gained from RESTING instead of moving.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Price Matching

I know a lot of you wise shoppers out there frequently take advantage of price matching policies, but I am new to the practice and want to highlight how AWESOMELY EASY it is to save money on groceries.

I was struck with a sudden and annoying case of insomnia, so I used the time to read up on advice from a facebook couponing queen. (Her page is Canadian Coupons and Freebies, and I HIGHLY recommend 'liking' it on facebook). She does so much of the hard work of couponing for me, reading all the flyers, and linking up sale prices in the flyers to coupons that have recently come out, allowing her fans to get some really excellent deals. My favourite deal this week took advantage of a coupon deal, as well as a price match policy. I read about this deal at 5am, and knowing I was going to save the next day somehow made the not sleeping a little more bearable.

If you are headed to Walmart for groceries, but Shoppers Drug Mart has a sale on that you want, for me at least with a one year old, it is rarely worth my time to make the second stop. That involves 2x finding parking spots, carts, unbuckling car seats, squirming toddler, and just general headaches. So you take your Shoppers flyer with you on your shop, make sure to grab the exact product (if, for example, you are buying Gain laundry detergent, the corresponding load count has to match up) and head to the cashier. Show the sale price while checking out and they will adjust to their competitors prices! One stop, multiple sales; SO COOL! There is a certain amount of time invested in looking for the products you want at other stores, and remembering to take the evidence with you. This policy though is so handy when the stars align and coupons and sales are out at the same time.

My score of the week was a bottle of Motrin, regular price at Walmart was $7.47. Shoppers had it on sale this week for $5.99. However Shoppers does not take internet coupons, which I had, and as we discussed, with the squirming toddler I don't like to make multiple stops. So I took my flyer and $5 off coupon to Walmart, and scored a bottle of 100 tablets for $.99! I did other price matches on cereal (not nearly as sweet as the Motrin, but around 40% off), as well as used a couple coupons for soy milk and Pampers.

I know that the time invested to study the flyers and carefully match products will pay for itself in deals scored and shopper satisfaction!

A list of price matching grocery stores:
Walmart, Zellers, Canadian Tire, Future Shop (I believe they also have a 10% price beating policy), London Drugs, Toys 'R Us, Sears, Save on Foods, and Real Canadian Superstore (front page items only)
Happy shopping!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Discerning Need Urgency

Sometimes, when we recognize a need, it is incredibly difficult discerning the urgency level that need really has. I feel like North American culture whispers in our ear constantly that we have to fulfill all our needs now, RIGHT now, and we as people are unfulfilled until we have everything we can possibly need. That mindset seems so silly when stated matter of fact like that, but I see in my life how often I have and still struggle with wanting it all, and wanting it all now.

What I've really noticed I struggle with, is patience in letting a need rest for a little while. Sometimes, yes, things need to be replaced asap, but there's a lot of stuff in life that we can first try living without, before we run out and get the newest upgraded model.

The thing that's been on my mind that has been driving all this stuff home is work clothes. I recently applied for a job, was interviewed, (still no word back) but as I was preparing for this interview I was forced to pick an interview outfit. For most of the women I know, this would not be a painless process, and there is some amount of thought that goes into how we want to present ourselves. In picking this outfit I realized that a vast majority of my work clothes are not just pre-baby, but they are pre-husband. That is putting them in my early university days, and some even my late high school days. I found multiple articles that are a decade old. And while there are days that I can delude myself, I have to admit that I am just not the same shape I was after housing another human being.

In light of my aging wardrobe and (hopefully) fast approaching new job, I had work wear on the brain. It kind of worried me, knowing the price work clothes can be, but I am so happy I sat on it. I saw a sign on my drive home from grocery shopping for a Salvation Army kids clothes sale, for a dollar a piece. That price is much cheaper than most of the used places up here, let alone new, so I decided to turn around and check it out. The sale when I got inside was fill a bag for $5, with clothing not just for kids, but adults as well. Everything in the above picture I had in one bag. Most of the clothes are new with tags, and most of them are perfect for summer work clothes.

I'm not saying that ever ytime I need something, the need will magically be filled at a bargain bottom rate if only I wait a few days. But I'm starting to see the real battle in not letting a need take hold and POSSESS me. And a big part of that is truly confronting the North American lie that to consume is to be fulfilled. Sometimes, I would argue most of the time, we really do have everything we need to get by already in our possession. And most helpful is reminding myself over and over that the most important stuff in this life isn't stuff.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Garage Sale Season

It's one of my favourite summer activities: hitting garage sales. (or car-boot sales for my British family members) I have vivid memories from when I was a kid of taking home a $40 kitchen table with chairs that served our family for over a decade. I remember getting things from stuffed animals, to additions to my heart collection, to books, SO MANY books! At a quarter a piece or less my tight-budget family was able to feed my addiction as a kid to books and learning.

As a grown up I'm glad that they only happen one day of the week, because I think that they could become an addiction if I'm not careful. There's an added spark to the addiction fire in that you KNOW you are getting things at a bargain price, and an added excitement stumbling on the one gem in the midst of junk.

The most important piece of yard-sale advice I can give is go with a list. It may not have to be written down, it may not be all that specific, but if you give yourself permission to take home every good deal you find, you'll come home with way more than you need. Week to week I have an idea of the things I am allowed to come home with. If it's not in my head, I don't get to bring it home. I know there are a few kitchen pieces I need (who keeps taking all my platters?!) and a few items of clothing Sam needs (who keeps taking my kid's socks?!) and taking the time before we leave to brainstorm on the few items will keep me focused in my hunt. I know a family that prays with their kids for their family's specific needs before they go.

My favourite find so far this season (a garage sale post is not complete without a brag) is the big ticket toys we have picked up for Sam. I had been looking at play structures for outdoors and indoors, but they are so expensive to buy brand new. We bought an outdoor slide, and an indoor kitchen, and at $30 a piece, they took up a lot of my garage sale budget for a few weeks. This was made up for by the fact we got Sam a water table, and ride on car totally free at the side of the road. He now has an excellent collection of backyard toys, and when it's raining, he can enjoy cooking and creating on our new-to-us play kitchen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Financial Challenges

My husband and I have started this month to give each other financial and fitness challenges. These are things that are meant to stretch us, and take us a little out of our comfort zone.

My financial challenge for the month of April is an ice block. With my credit card in it.

We already severely limit the use of our credit cards, any purchases made on it are discussed, along with where the money is going to come from. (Some purchases come from our grocery budget, like when I order K-Cups online, while something like curtains would probably come from our household improvement savings account).

There's still a mental leap for me, letting go of the credit card, knowing that I can't access it, or use it. Also, it makes me wonder when the challenge is done, how long it'll take for me to thaw it out. Will I feel a relief and melt it down ASAP Or will my card take up residence in the freezer to truly become a "use in case of emergency" card? Considering my affection for travelling, I highly doubt it will stay slushied for long. It does make me appreciate the need to pay in full and plan out those tempting credit card purchases.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Responsibility Appreciation

I know some people in life who are so willing to work hard, not just giving straight up labour, but being responsible for things. (My oldest brother is one of these people for sure. He's so bossy.) They thrive under pressure, and give all that they need to for the job to get done right. I am not one of these people. Responsibility is awesome in that it shows someone is willing to entrust something to me, but I really can't say I seek it out or THRIVE with it.

Money, to me, is just one large tiring responsibility.

I do a devotional reading every day, and there is a different theme for every week of the year, so one week was encouragement, another relationships, and so on. A few weeks back the theme was money, and on day one I literally thought, "Well, I don't really need this since Ted does all of our finances anyway." (In the big picture sense.) Day three of that week, we get a call that says that Ted will be going away for work until late in the summer. I would, therefore, be the one managing and steering our family finances. One thing, I did not feel at that point, was thriving. But I can tell you, I soaked up every word of every day's reading for the rest of the week.

I don't know why I'm so terrified, because I know I am equipped to do the job, and I can reach out to Ted if I have a question or concern. Part of me is afraid I might steer my family wrong, or undo all the good things my husband has worked hard putting in place. (In this scenario we would have no savings, but I would have a killer wardrobe.) Mostly right now I feel like staying very, very still. Literally, still. In this scenario if I don't do ANYTHING, I can't possibly rock the boat or mess up in any way, shape, or form.

It occurs to me though in writing out all these thoughts that the ideal position would be seeing what I can make better. How can I improve on the terrific job Ted has done. What NEW ideas can I implement that adds a new dynamic to our family finances? Because as much as a strong leader is a very good thing, a strong team is even better. I've prayed lots that I stay on track and make good decisions with the blessings we have.

And I love you Andrew, despite all the teasing. :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Budget Romance

Where once a date was not a date unless I had makeup, heels and a dress on, we have discovered that our excitement has shifted away from $150 dinners towards a more practical approach at dating. For us having a babysitter usually means the chance to shop minus the screaming child/poop explosions/blood sugar crash that typically comes with a trip into town. Romantic dinners are still one of our favourite things, but generally they happen at home, after our son is in bed, where we can enjoy the process of cooking together, eating slowly, and sometimes even saving cleanup until the morning. Even if we indulge a ton of whims for our dinner at home, we're still more than likely only spending 1/4 of what we would going out.

It's hard to make the time to think about romance and activities together when we're in the routine of life, but I've been realizing how important it really is. We're doing a small group study on the book The Five Love Languages, and the book helpfully revealed to us that I most definitely have the love language of quality time. This means that I most feel loved when I have my husband's undivided attention, through conversation or participating in something together. The study had us as couples come up with a list of activities we want to do together, alternating inexpensive activities with ones that may cost a little more.

Ted and I discovered something we love doing together is house projects. When we turn off distractions and just paint, or sand, or even hang pictures, we're getting the chance to converse, and that feeling of satisfaction after a project has been completed. I think it's so healthy to accomplish something TOGETHER, as a team, but it does take thought.

I took a picture of our latest house project-painting our banister. The activity cost us a can of paint, and our time, but it wasn't time wasted, it was time invested. Not just invested in our home, but in our relationship (Even with Ted's Mom there helping us) . Money well spent.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stretching our Meat Budget

I did a brief and completely unscientific poll on facebook about how my friends save money on their meat budget. While I did receive a few of the answer I expected (buying what's on sale and freezing it) I got a lot of answers that surprised me. One I saw quite a lot more than I expected was cutting down/cutting meat out.
A few others answers that I appreciated was using co-ops and local farmers, as well as trade. And one smartie who suggested trading a vegetable budget for a meat budget. Joker.

I realize that people cut out meat for many reasons aside from budgetary, but the quantity still took me off guard. For the most part I'm on side with those friends. I find it easy to cut down/cut out meat, I lived on no red meat for years, and loved it; but living with a self-proclaimed meatatarian means that I needed to find a new creative solution to eat meat at almost every meal without breaking our bank.

In our household, the solution was trickery. I couldn't cut meat out of too many meals, because no matter how delicious the food was, I would still receive a pout and a, "Where's the meat?" And that bugged me.
So instead of cutting it OUT, it gets cut in half, and "filled in." And the filler is usually a vegetable, sometimes rice or beans, but I generally try to camouflage it in a way that doesn't betray a cutting to the meat. At first I thought I was getting away with it, completely unnoticed, but a yelled, "I see you adding carrots to everything" from across the room revealed I am nowhere as covert as I once thought.
Hubby's pretty patient though with my "Rabbit food" way of eating. I think he appreciates a goal of a financially and physically fitter family, and whatever the means are to make a cash grocery budget last as long as it needs to. As long as it doesn't mean saying goodbye to meat completely.