Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Meaning Over Approval

I have had a couple of opportunities come my way of late. One has come to be and another remains to be seen. Now that reality has set in and I have a side gig that will make me just a bit of money that will slowly become a small emergency fund I find myself nervous and plagued by self-doubt. This opportunity is one that, at one time, was a dream of mine. It feels right to move forward in this area and see what comes of it. But in the back of my mind is the voice, that voice--you know the one--the voice that whispers in my ear but what will people think? what if you are thought a fool? what if someone disagrees with you? what if they don't like you? what if they can see that you are unsure of yourself? what if you are wrong?

Have you ever heard this voice? The voice inside you that holds you back and prevents you from taking a chance? I have been out of the (paid) workforce for almost 4 years. I spend the majority of my time with people that fight over who gets the blue cup. I am seriously starting to freak myself out.

But I am not going to back down from a new challenge in my life. I've had my sleepless nights and I've thought non-stop about the worst-case-scenarios. Time and time again when I worry about what direction to take in life, I return to the words of Dan at Do I wish for meaningful experiences in my life, or do I seek the approval of others? Sometimes we are lucky enough to have both, and that is great. But other times you need to make a choice. Allowing yourself to be held back by what others might think or expect of you is a pity. Especially when you are holding back from doing something that matters to you. Sometimes you should do the thing that brings you closer to who you want to be, your potential self, and do it for reasons that matter to you. I always wanted to write. My granny gave me boxes of harlequin romances when I was growing up. I believe I wrote my first by the age of 13 (it remains unpublished lol!) I went to University with the vague idea that if I studied writers I would become one. Path led to path which led to a different path which led me to this moment where I have an opportunity to write. for. money.

It's not much money. And I've been writing it here for free. You see, it's about frugality, and how you can have a simple, happy life that doesn't have to cost much. In fact, it's ever so much more rewarding when you do it without spending much. It's hard to admit that I want to write though. I've spent the last 38 years of my life dodging the ridicule of 4 brothers. What will they think of my writing? What will others say? I read a good quote the other day although I've forgotten who said it: don't worry about what others think of you--they are all worrying about themselves just like you are". I certainly hope that is true.

But I met a lovely lady who is writing a book and I got to read it and I loved it. In reading it I reached out to other writer-friends and it reminded me that I once thought that I would write. I once felt it in my bones. And then an opportunity came up and I raised my hand and I've been called upon and now it is time for me to put up or shut up. I'll keep you posted on how things go.

I don't know if this opportunity will last a long time but it has opened a forgotten door. I am remembering old interests and realizing that perhaps I can have everything I ever wanted: my lovely family and a simple quiet life in the country where my people humour all my homesteading endeavours. The time to put out my thoughts to a small but encouraging group in this space. And a little bit of money made doing something I was doing anyways. To turn back now would be to let approval win the day, and I am too old to let that happen. The chance might not come along again.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Three Years of Blogging

Three years ago I began this blog. We lived in a small town 100 kms from here and everything that we have and are doing now was just a dream. At that time it was hard to get anywhere. My youngest cried in the vehicle--every moment that he spent in a vehicle--and it was a 45 minute drive for groceries or one hour to get to my parent's farm. He also made strange to everybody...especially my mom, the only person that had ever watched my kids for me besides their dad. Life felt frantic and messy and beyond my control. A big part of the decision to move was the little boy that could not be comforted in the car. I had to move closer to my people. I owe him one.

This is O--he can fall asleep anywhere :)

I am so glad that we took the plunge and decided to build our acreage sooner than planned. For a time we gave up and decided to just move to "town". My mom sensed that and encouraged us to build the acreage. I'm glad she did, so, so glad. I knew the life I wanted and how I wanted to raise my kids. Although I suppose we could have done it anywhere, we are home now and there is an indescribable peace to knowing that you are exactly where you should be, doing what you were meant to do.

I think that blogging about our lives here is a contradiction. I am intensely private and an introvert. Let's call me quirky. But as I've gotten older I've come to embrace my own quirks. For some reason it feels safe to share our adventures here in this space, although I've opted not to join Facebook, Twitter, Google plus and the like. I am not interested in creating a public persona or trying to maintain it. This is it. This is us. I have made wonderful, meaningful connections through my blog and the blogs of others. I've learned and I've grown. I've wasted a LOT of time swiping on my phone and at times it has been a challenge to cut back and stick to the most positive and helpful. The desire to spend my time on positive, nourishing relationships extends from the real, everyday, to the virtual online community. If you have hung around here reading my thoughts, I am so humbled and thankful. If you've taken anything positive with you then I am so very glad. We are keeping it simple around here. We are trying not to be wasteful, aiming for self-sufficiency though we can never get there. We rely on friends and family and they rely on us. I guess "efficiency" is where we are headed. Thank you for being a part of that and giving me a little of your time :)

Friday, 5 February 2016

How We Saved Money Jan 31-Feb 06

I have already written about my savings on groceries this week. Using in-store coupons, a rewards card, and buying multiples of items that were on special saved me around $39 that I can think of off the top of my head. Had my kids not noticed that the coupons they took from the coupon wall matched the razors I bought for Husband, we would have paid the full price (even though neither of them can read. What brilliant kids!).  Had I made several smaller trips to the grocery store I would not have spent the required $250 that got me $20 off my future groceries. Had I not stockpiled coffee (for a savings of $16) I would also not have made the limit. This is one instance where spending more saved us money. I am very grateful that we have money to spare so that I can save by stockpiling. When, out of necessity, you must buy smaller portions you are usually paying a higher price and are unable to wait for the specials. It is a vicious cycle to be in.

Image Credit: Pinterest

I also saved money this week by going to my bank to cancel the over-draft protection fee I was being charged, and the life insurance that I had on my account. We have life insurance now and that account is barely ever used. Even though money rarely goes into it, I was losing an extra $10/month in fees for things I didn't want or need. I hate to say how long I have known about these fees--over a year I am sure. So that's $100 at least I could have saved by being more proactive. I was unable to cancel the fees online, and it is hard to get everywhere I want to go in town with the kids along. That said, I have had plenty of days alone in town where I simply forgot or ran out of time. When I went in to do it I was very impressed that they reimbursed me $60 for the overdraft protection without my even asking. I had to call an 800 number to cancel the life insurance but I actually remembered. So in addition to saving $10/week from now on I also have an extra $60 for emergencies, for a total of $70 saved at the bank this week!

Just to pat myself on the back, I tallied up the monthly costs that I was able to eliminate in the last few weeks (these are not one-off savings but rather monthly charges that I was able to reduce or eliminate).

  • cancelled an insurance policy, dropped cell phone bill: $66/mo
  • put satellite TV on seasonal break: $75/mo
  • cancelled overdraft protection and an unneeded life insurance fee: $10/mo
Feel free to double check my math, folks, but by my calculations that is an annual savings of $1812.00, all achieved in less than a few hours and with minimal inconvenience. That is more than an extra mortgage payment that we were allowing to go down the drain. If at all possible, I would like to make a prepayment of $1812.00 on our mortgage this year. Just for giggles I looked it up on my mortgage calculator: a prepayment in that amount would pay off our mortgage 7 weeks faster. We would save $133 in interest this period, but over the entire remaining amortization period we would save $1199.10 in interest--all with money that was being frittered away here and there without our ever realizing it. Doesn't it make sense to patch the holes if your boat is leaking?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

February 1 Grocery Shop

I made it!

I had promised myself that I would not give in and go get groceries until February. We ran out of a few things, and yet we survived. I borrowed a pound of butter from my mom (have since returned it) and she gave us some cauliflower. I'll get her something back eventually. We ran out of cream for coffee, which neither Husband nor I like to have happen. We like the 18% coffee cream and it is one of the few things we don't want to compromise on. But as it ran low I added some milk to the jug to help it stretch and we only had one morning of imperfect coffee :)

Speaking of coffee, it was on for $9.98, down from $13.98 per 930 g can. There was a limit of 4 cans per customer so I bought 4. Yes, I spent $40 on coffee this week, but if I was to wait until I was out of coffee and just buy them full price one at a time, it would have been $16 more. Also, I spent the required amount to receive $20 free groceries (which brings my 2016 tally of free groceries up to $40). I plan to use the free groceries if we are ever in a pinch or save them for special groceries at Christmas.

My February totals are going to show a skewed total for cleaning supplies. I bought 3 sets of tinfoil pans and filed them under cleaning since they are not food. That brought my cleaning total up by $11 which will seem like a lot spent on cleaning supplies when I am already fairly well stocked. The happy reason for the disposable pans is a new baby in the family :) I have a darling baby nephew now and I've been cooking up meals to send down to the new parents. Another purchase was a gift pack of razors with shaving gel for Husband. Usually his razors are about $20 for replacement cartridges (yikes!) but this pack had a new razor with 3 cartridges and a shaving gel for $20 and the kids had actually picked up a $3 coupon for it without my knowing it. They are becoming little frugal shoppers already ;)

I spent $271.59 on groceries on February 1st. I am more confident now that I can keep to my goal of $600/month (or less). The breakdown is as follows:

Cleaning: $32.67
Dry Goods: 138.47 (includes stockpile of coffee, bag of flour)
Produce: $28.33 (prices seem to be settling down)
Meat: $5 (we were given some beef by my parents so I only bought a $5 pack of sandwich meat)
Dairy: $44.86 (I got 2 800g blocks of cheese as they were on for $7.98 instead of $9.48. This cheese should last us most of the month. Although I do love me a cheesy casserole :-]
Health: $16.98 (razors)
Garden: (a new category!) $5.28 for seeds as I am attempting to sprout spinach and lettuce and bring down my produce spending :)

I feel so much more in control of my kitchen budget now that I am in the habit of checking the weekly flyers and coupon board at the store, menu-planning to ensure that I do not waste what I have purchased, and doing without the items that I would ordinarily go to town for and inevitably buy more than I had planned. Although I have almost spent the budget for the month, I have a good supply of rice, pasta, my own potatoes, and there is plenty of meat in the freezer. Most of what gets spent now will go towards fresh produce and dairy so I may possibly make it to the end of the shortest month with a bit of money leftover :)

Friday, 29 January 2016

How We Saved Money Jan 24-30, 2016

As I mentioned, we tried to keep our 6 year old's birthday party reasonable in both expectation and cost. Yes, we are tightening up our budget around here, but I'm also conscious of setting an expectation in my children's minds. When everything you do is lavish and on a grand scale, it gets hard to have ordinary days of work and play. It is my goal to teach my kids to enjoy work and to recognise a feeling of accomplishment when something is followed through from beginning to end. When you live a simple life, do a day's work and go to bed tired, it is easier to appreciate time spent with friends in genuine conversation, a warm fire, a homemade meal. I am not interested in competing with other people's lifestyles, although I respect their right to live as they choose. I am also not interested in trying to outdo last year's costly and elaborate birthday party with something even more costly and elaborate this year. I'm pleased to report that the other moms felt the same and I sensed a sigh of relief when I pulled out cookies as parting gifts and said "I don't expect my kids to bring home a toy from a birthday party"! I know that making all the food and cake myself saved us money, but compared to last year when each child got to take home the superhero plate he or she ate off, I'd say sending home cookies saved me about $25.

I called our cell phone provider to try to downgrade my cell plan. Although our combined plan is cheaper than Husband's individual plan was when we met (for real!) I don't feel that I use my phone enough for it to cost me $65/month. Truthfully, I should go "pay-as-you-go" because I dread talking on the phone. However, I text like a bandit and sometimes our internet phone doesn't work very well, and those seem to be the days I need to use the phone. So after half an hour on the phone with them, I decided that when my contract is up I will have to shop around for another provider with cheaper plans. This of course got me patched through to a supervisor, who after another 30 minutes and the same declaration was finally able to come up with a plan that is $50/month. I will now have 1 gig of data instead of 5 (my usage was never over 1 gig anyways). I think for a $15 savings I can stay off the internet when I'm out and just use wifi at home. If I need something googled I will just have to (gasp!) ask a stranger. So downgrading my plan, combined with cancelling the insurance on the phone, saves me $21/month.

I also cancelled the package policy on an older truck that Husband will no longer be using for work. It would have been easy to forget, but the extra coverage is not necessary and costs $544/year. So cancelling it saves us $45/month. The truck still has insurance, mind you, just not the lowered deductible and special coverage that it used to.

I have not gone to town for groceries. That saves me $10 in gas for the week. I want to make it until February 1 before I get groceries again and I have meals planned so that I can do just that. I've been baking bread and cookies and only just ran out of butter. My mom had a pound I could have until Monday when I get groceries, and she also found cauliflower for $4 and it was a HUGE head that she shared with me. We always share food back and forth so when I find something that is a good deal I will return the favour.

All in all, I spent $101 less this week than I might have, but more importantly I eliminated $46 $66 (don't ask. I am soooo mathematically challenged!) from our monthly bills. That's a savings of $552 $792 in a year. A good chunk out of an extra mortgage payment, or a really good addition to an emergency fund. Or almost a month worth of groceries. It feels good to reduce our spending, and I have only just begun!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Thrifty Thursday: Practice Your Hobbies for Less

It's been awhile since I've written a "Thrifty Thursday" post. I like to post some frugal ideas when I think of them in hopes that they inspire others who are possibly trying to save or reduce spending.

I think it's fair to say that modern day society is geared towards spending money in free time. Never mind family vacations that might be saved for and occur annually, how much money do we spend simply because we have the time and feel "bored"? Shopping as a pastime is driving household debt through the roof, not to mention creating homes overflowing with clothes and "stuff" and a society that is stressed out and working ever-harder to pay for a lifestyle that brings them little joy.

I think that hobbies and non-work related interests are what truly enrich our lives and bring a gratification well worth the cost in time and effort. Some hobbies can be costly, true, so I wanted to examine how a person can learn and practice a hobby/skill without it becoming a financial burden.

  • I had my first garden while I was pregnant with my first child. I removed myself from Facebook the following year, feeling that it wasted my time and prevented me from learning more about the things I was interested in. Instead of spending my time creeping on FB I began reading gardening blogs and books about landscaping and permaculture. Fast forward to building our acreage and doing our own landscaping. I derive such joy from my yard, visiting nurseries, buying flowers. This year I want to focus on reducing the cost of this hobby. I plan to:
    • tour my neighbours yards rather than cruising nurseries for plants. My yard is filling in now and there will only be a few specific things I add. Rather than tempting myself with the possibility of spending more on plants I think I'll get my fix of beautiful flowers by visiting the talented gardeners nearby.
    • Offer to plant swap by dividing perennials and trading with friends and neighbours. This way I will achieve variety without the added cost
    • Experiment with more plants from seed. I don't have terribly good luck starting things from seed, but I figure with more practice my odds will improve.
    • Trade fellow gardeners for their excess produce. Perhaps someone will have pumpkins they would like to trade for potatoes or beets. Even if I'm not able to grow everything under the sun, asking around might develop a bartering relationship that benefits everyone

  • It's no secret that I love fabric. LOVE. FABRIC. There's been a moratorium declared on buying more, however. This year I plan to make scrappy quilts using flannel sheets as batting and thrifted sheets as backing. What was becoming an expensive hobby (considering I like to give away what I make) can still be practiced using what I have and what I can find at thrift stores. I've already gone through my mom's stash and my own and started a lovely morning star scrappy quilt. I still get to practice one of my favorite pastimes but without the guilt of spending too much!
  • Husband likes to take the kids to the movie theatre for a movie once in awhile. It just really costs too much, though. I think the last time it was $60 for the three of them including drinks and snacks. We can borrow movies from the library or find something on Netflix for free or next to nothing. Throw in a homemade pizza and stove-top popcorn and you've got a special family night at no extra cost. Better yet, skip the movie and play board games and really interact as a family.
  • Try to take your hobby to the next level. We have some sheep now and in the spring they will need sheared. I've volunteered to help the neighbours with their shearing day so I can learn how and shear my own. Who knows, but this little venture might end up actually earning us some money if we can eventually shear for others. Aside from that, I have big plans to learn to spin wool and hope to work off the cost of lessons rather than having to pay cash. 

  • Get to know the hobbies available near you. I enjoy doing pottery and would one day like to take another class. It's rather costly, though, at $220 for six evening classes. I know of a couple local potters who might be interested in giving pointers and allowing me to use their pottery wheels. Perhaps and arrangement could be made to trade/barter for lessons. 
  • Make a plan and make it happen. For a couple years I've been talking about building an outdoor pizza oven in our yard. I'd like to find salvaged bricks and build it myself but usually get too busy to really look for what I need. Although there would be some cost to the project, dedicating the time to finding used (cheaper) materials would be a challenge and something to do in my free time. Although, looking back on the list there is probably not going to be much of that!
Having a hobby is a great stress-reliever and enriches our lives. Some things we have decided to try as a family are: rather than going to a movie, go fishing at the river or for a picnic at the park or go riding bikes. Rather than take the kids to the fair (very costly) we could visit the museum or art gallery (much cheaper) and do some follow up activities to learn more about what we see. This summer I want my boys to play on the informal--and free--local ball team. There are many hobbies to be had that do not need to cost much money if you are creative. Have you got any low-cost, high entertainment hobbies that you could add to the list?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Sweet Annie's Chocolate Cake

We recently celebrated my 6 year old's birthday with a sliding party with his little chums from school (plus siblings). My decision to give each family cookies instead of loot bags was a great hit, by the way :) We also did "Happy Face Pizza" where each child got to decorate their own personal pizza with peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni etc to look like a face. That part was a little hectic with 9 little excited bodies in my kitchen clamoring to have their turn. But I survived and a good time was had by all :)

I made a chocolate birthday cake with chocolate icing and served it with ice cream to the kids and parents for dessert. The recipe is special to me for a couple of reasons and it's such a good cake I wanted to share it here. When we first moved into this house a friend kindly brought us the most fabulous chocolate cake to thank us for food we had taken her when she had a baby. No such thank you was necessary but boy did we enjoy the cake! I told O, then about 20 months old or so, to say thanks for the cake, and he waved and said "Fank you cupcake!".

When I told my friend how much we loved the cake she told me the recipe belonged to our mutual friend's mom, Ann. Unfortunately, Ann passed away last spring. She is sadly missed by many, many people. I thought of her all day as I prepared the cake and shed a tear or two thinking how unfair it is that she is gone. Ann had a wonderful laugh and was always positive even though she was often in pain. I learned something from her whenever we were together. She showed me how to stitch in the ditch and how to prune an apple tree. She made wonderful bannock and apple pie and never had a bad thing to say about anybody. I could go on. Suffice it to say that she's the type of lady and mom that I aspire to be.

Making Ann's chocolate cake got me to thinking about how recipes are passed on, and how when we share our recipes we share a bit of ourselves. My granny's zucchini relish takes me back to being in college and her sending me to her basement to bring up jars of relish, jam, even canned potatoes. Her and grampa put up a bunch of extra food that year and had extra supplies because of Y2K. I have her old recipe books, many that are handwritten, and seeing her writing especially makes me feel closer to her now even though she is gone. I know these women would like the idea of people enjoying good food together and exchanging favorite memories and stories. It's what I'm doing now.

Sweet Annie's Chocolate Cake

 Preheat oven to 350F. In small bowl mix:

2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup oil
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

In large bowl mix:

2 2/3 cups flour
2/3 cups cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Boil 2 cups of water and, alternating with wet mixture, add to dry. Mix until smooth. Bake approximately 40 minutes in a greased 9"x 13" pan. Ice with ganache-type icing or buttercream.

I have other recipes from friends and relatives and relatives of friends. Our favorite salsa recipe came from my cousin's husband's gramma. Another of the significant moms in my life passed away last year. I have a few of her recipes and was very touched to have been given some of her excess canning jars. It is nice to think of the recipes we love being enjoyed in other homes and passed on. It's a wonderful way to honour the cooks in our lives and remember them as we prepare that special food. Do you have a favorite recipe that was given to you by someone special?