Monday, 27 September 2010

Money doesn’t grow on trees. How wonderful it might be if it did! In these tougher times, if everyone had a money tree in their own back yard that they could tend to and prune and perhaps everyone would be on a more level playing field. If only…

Unfortunately, life just doesn’t work that way. In tough times, and particularly during this time of year, many of us are cutting back and feeling like we are missing out. This does not have to be the case. Getting to know what to shop for and where to shop for it can be a big help in saving you money.

Many people are looking for ways to barter and cut corners. It Is amazing to me how in this society of social networking that people have no trouble posting about what TV show they’re watching tonight, but they don’t think to share what they are pursuing or what they need. There are a variety of no-cost and low cost options in most communities for a variety of goods and services. Chances are that for whatever you need, there is someone that you already know that knows where you can find one.

I recently posted a wanted ad on our local Freecycle group looking for a few items for a family member who was setting up a new apartment. It has been my experience that people are often happy to donate their items to a new life if they know it will be going to good use. There are a variety of Freecycle, Recycle, and ReUseit Groups across the country as well as such sites as and that have forums for free items, as well as their other classifieds. It costs you nothing to let your fingers do the walking, and you may be surprised at the treasures waiting for someone to come along and give them new purpose.

Similarly, if you find bulk packages of meat on sale knowing that you will not use it all before it spoils, you have some choices. You can divide it and freeze for later use, prepare it all now and freeze it, or you can buddy up with a friend or two and split your purchase so that you all get a great deal but not so much that you can’t handle it. This is particularly useful if you don’t have a freezer of your own. We often do this with larger quantities, such as a bushel of apples, or 50 kgs of potatoes.

Yard sales and thrift stores are also a gold mine of possibilities as you never know what you are going to find sifting through the castoffs of someone else’s life. Sometimes you have to really dig to find something interesting, but often you get an opportunity to haggle a better deal – and for some that pursuit is every bit as much fun as the find itself.

Does your daughter really need that $50 pair of mall sale jeans? Try the second hand shops, yard sales, freecycles, or team up with some of your neighborhood Moms and do a clothing swap. Often kids have grown out of the clothes long before the clothing was badly worn or tattered and not only does lightening your friend’s hand-me-downs save you money, but you’ve helped to keep your friend clutter free. That’s a win win, I’d say.

 When our kids were growing up we were often on the receiving end of bags of hand-me-down clothing from older friends and relatives. As a result our kids always had much more than they needed and we were often able to pay it forward and send them on their way again once we were done. Often cutting corners in this way meant “extra” money left-over for a splurge trip once in a while to get a new belt or accessory or a family trip to the movies for no particular reason.

Make research your friend! If you find that you are constantly throwing away leftovers of a particular kind – get online and start looking for leftover solutions. From websites and blogs to message groups and beyond - there is a wealth of information out there just waiting for you to find it. Suddenly one of your biggest chores has become somewhat of a game and your challenge is to use it up before it expires.

Money doesn’t grow on trees. It’s true, but if you know where to look you just may find a little extra to stash away for a rainy day.

Here are a couple of my favorite budget friendly sites on the web. Hope that you enjoy them.

The Trading Post: A Trading place for Canadian coupons.

Freecycle (Check Site to find a group near you!)

Do you have a favorite site to share? Leave me a comment and I'll check it out!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Budget Boo$ters - You Only Get What You Pay For...

But sometimes your only real investment is time.

We’ve all heard the “too good to be true stories”, and many have signed onto the “there’s no such thing as a free ride” team.  While the old adage “You get what you pay for, still rings true in many cases if you’re willing to look around and invest a little time – you can often get a variety of items and samples, and budget saving coupons delivered straight to your door.

This week I thought I’d share a few of these sites. It has been a while since I’ve gone looking for new ones, and I was surprised to see how many more of them had cropped up beyond my regular haunts. One thing to note is that many sites say that they cater to Canadians but are laden with offers that say “Sorry US Only”, but there are also some genuine Canadian offerings out there.

Here are a few such offerings: is a free service that offers consumers across Canada the chance to save on their grocery bills every week by allowing them to choose and receive only the coupons of their choice.  Coupons are mailed free via Canada Post and are redeemable at supermarkets nationwide. runs on the same principle and software as but is Proctor and Gamble Based Products only. Proctor and Gamble is home to such brands as Crest, Febreze, Always, Pampers, Olay, CoverGirl, Braun, Swiffer, Bounty and Charmin. offers coupons across Canada making use of a database based on a user’s zip code.  On this site you can print local coupons and find savings. Simply enter your location to find the deals and offers for the day.
Do you have a favorite Budgeting, coupon or other money saving site that you would like to share?  Leave me a comment or send me an e-mail. I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Inspirational Women Are Right Next Door

As I See It ~ My View From the Zoo
I have always had a fond appreciation for the work of the late Erma Bombeck.  Along with many avid fans, I mourned the loss of a legend when she died after complications following her kidney transplant in 1996.
Anybody that can find humor in the trials and tribulations of a regular household of busy family life and share them in a way that can make others look at themselves and laugh a little bit has shared an incredible gift.

Erma had a real knack for making her reader feel as though they knew her. It was much like sharing a coffee chat with a friend, more than simply reading a novel. She had a knack for finding the amusement in the most mundane moments in family life.  I was often caught giggling out loud while riding on public transit. Somehow sad to me that this was often met with a sideward glare as though I’d broken some kind of unwritten rule of awkward silence while in a public place.

Inevitably things break, relationships get bumpy and life is rarely the vision of the fictional “Brady Bunch,” that we grew up watching.  If you take a look back through your life I’m sure we can all find stories that were not at ALL amusing at the time but can now be reflected on in a different light.  Some stories will be retold for years to come at family gatherings, while others will be enjoyed only in the solace of your memory as you sit in your darkened bedroom at night and giggle in amusement to yourself.

Surely it’s Murphy’s Law that decides that the day you’ve invited your whole family over for a large dinner, that this would be the time your stove element would give out.  Your car will choose to have its breakdown coincide with your family vacation.  As you are working away on year end reports, or a critical assignment is when you toddler will choose to say, “Daddy, what does this button do?” as all of your unsaved work falls into the bit bucket.
There will be days when things will happen that make you wish that the floor would just open up and swallow you, and there will be days that you’re almost certain that that is exactly what has happened to you.

I came to find Erma Bombeck when I was in my early 20’s. I’d seen a copy of “Family – The Ties that Bind and Gag” and I just had to take a look at that.  It had certainly gotten my attention.  From there, I was hooked!  I remember picking up every title that I could find – I couldn’t get enough of them.  With such wisdoms as “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” and “When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home”.   How could you not be intrigued?

Having come survived my parents’ divorce at a young age and life with a single Dad; I learned early that just because you come from a huge family doesn’t mean that you’re the Waltons. It’s something I’ve always pondered, the way we make so many unilateral assumptions about everything.

I wasn’t one of the popular kids growing up, and in many ways I was still struggling to find the place that I fit in to this world when medical issues came in and swept me over in my mid 20’s. Well-meaning people often comment on how hard it must have been, or how awful but in reality it’s only awful if you have something better to compare it to.  We all have a mindset of what is normal, and that doesn’t get challenged until we have something else to hold up beside it to question if something is truly wrong.  While it is true that things were never easy, I’ve come to realize that anything worth having rarely is.

As kids we couldn’t wait to get older, and as adults we sometimes pine for those long forgotten days before husbands and kids, mortgage payments and family commitments.  I suppose it is human nature to always want to be something or somewhere other than we are.  We weren’t made to remain still, however the trick is finding a balance between where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going and where you hope to end up.

Of course there are some stories that do not lend themselves to humor of any fashion but even though life does have its joys and struggles; sometimes the only way that we get through it is finding something positive --something to laugh about -- even when we feel like crying.  Erma Bombeck got that side of life.  Her work has been a long-time inspiration to me and I find myself reflecting on some of her humorous quotes from time to time.

Just as there are days when everything is sunshine and roses, there will be days when as you step off the bus that its big doors clamor shut and it drives away with your wig in tow. I will never forget the way it felt to have all of those commuters staring at my chemo-induced bald head as my hair began to pull away without me.  Thankfully someone at the front noticed the exchange and the bus driver stopped.  I have no idea what possessed me at the time, but as the door opened I grabbed my hair and plopped it back on my head – addressed the crowd with “Damn! I hate it when that happens!”  and turned to walk away.  I was beyond mortified, and several blocks later I remember looking back to see people still watching after me.  Today I can remember that day and smile wondering what those people thought about this bald woman standing there watching her hair as it pulled away and laugh – but at the time I was vibrating from head to toe and sporting what I’m sure what the brightest shade of red that Burnaby BC had ever seen.  Life’s like that sometimes.

The long and short of it is that one thing is clear.  Life is fatal – we are only here for a short time and we need to make the most of it.  We can laugh at our foibles and mistakes and move on, or we can cry about them and wallow in it.  I’ll take laughter any day.  Thanks Erma Bombeck for being a woman who has inspired me greatly over the years.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Crockpot Goddess of my Kitchen

A Crock-pot or slow cooker, I have discovered is a gift straight from the Goddess of Kitchens.  I got my first one as a gift from my husband’s parents a few years ago, and have since added 2 more to my employ.

I’d actually discovered the art of the homemade soup a few years back.  I had grown imminently frustrated with the phenomenon of science experiments harbored in my fridge and how inevitably the one who prophetically rallied for the making of extra chicken legs or boiled eggs for school lunches no longer acknowledged their existence and I set out looking for some ways to make better use of leftovers.

My rough calculations showed way too much of our grocery budget being fed to the garbage can each month. A pork chop here, a chicken leg there, a couple cups of potatoes, well you get the idea - each item in and of itself perhaps insignificant, but on fridge clean out day the message was clear.

While I tried to use up what I could, I was often met with grief from picky eaters who would have me believe there was some unwritten rule about having the same food twice within a time period.  I was amused to later learn that this rule seemed to be applied at the discretion of the child doing the complaining and was only too happily revoked if the dinner in question was one of the convenience meals they loved most.  I took it as a major victory when I managed to sneak a meal made primarily from leftover spaghetti sauce into a second meal simply by changing the shape of the pasta that it was served with.  I guess you take your victories where you can get them, right?

I felt like I was in a no win situation and losing ground pretty fast.  At least in my mind anyways.  I was looking at a situation that I felt should have an easy answer, but in reality there were no answers, only more questions.  In a quiet moment I found myself reflecting on a tidbit shared with me by my mother-in-law.  She’d suggested that if what was happening was bothering someone else, well by all means let them deal with it, however – if it was bothering me then it was me that needed to do something about it.  At the time we were talking about something completely unrelated, but somehow that afternoon the words resonated with me and I set off on a mission.

I had hopes of coming up with a site or two that might lend some ideas for repurposing leftovers before they became science experiments.  Perhaps if I could cleverly disguise my leftover pork chop as something else I could fool my kids and impress myself in the process.  As with most research expeditions of this nature, I ended up finding much more than I had ever hoped for but unlike previous expeditions that resulted in pages of notes and a multitude of saved bookmarks in hopes of coming back to visit later, I wanted to equip myself with useful knowledge I could use – NOW!

I came upon various e-loops and chat rooms, books, websites and such devoted to once a month cooking, batch cooking, spendthrifts and frugalistas galore.  I started putting into practice some new ideas that gave me a feeling of satisfaction knowing that I had reduced my contribution to science that month by just a little bit.

As with most big projects, mine gets sidelined from time to time as I stray from the plan and come back to it time and again.  There are days when everything falls into place, and other days where you could convince me that the dust bunnies are really in on an evil plot to take over our home and make it their new head quarters.

When all is said and done, nobody can proclaim what is right for you; you have to find your own tune and set your own rhythm.  The great thing about being your own composer is that when you fall out of step, you can jump right back in where you left off and carry on – no harm, no foul.

If anybody had told me a few years ago that I could take a leftover portion or two of meat, add to it a few vegetables (if I don’t have any in the leftover category), add beans, rice or potatoes and seasonings and put them all into this magic pot and turn it on that later that day we’d would have a pot of soup that would have even the pickiest eater in our family coming back from more there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I’d have laughed myself silly.  The idea of putting a frozen roast into this magic pot, either alone or with potatoes, carrots, onions and spices and leaving for the day would result in coming home to a house that smells like you spent the whole day slaving over the hot stove was just amazing.  An idea based so far out of reality I knew I’d have to see it to believe it.

For those unaware of the whole crockpot revival, here is why slow cookers are fabulous.

  • They save time.  You place all of your ingredients into the bowl early in the day, turn it on and come home in the evening to a scrumptious stew, or soup – perhaps a pot roast and fixings. Already prepared and ready to eat.
  • Clean-Up time is greatly reduced.  One pot, one cutting board and whatever utensils you used to prepare whatever is in the pot.
  • They are simple to use. If you prepare the items ahead of time and put the crock in the fridge – your older child could remove the crock set it in the base and turn it on before school giving them a part to play in the craziness that is often dinner time in a busy family setting.
  • They save money – They don’t use as much energy as your oven or stove and as an added bonus you can safely let it run while you are not at home – something that most of us wouldn’t dream of doing with our stove or oven.  Even a normally tough cut of meat cooks up to be as tender as can be, coupled with root vegetables and some homemade bread and you’ve got an inexpensive meal fit for a king (or queen).
The crockpot chronicles are an event in our family now that bear frequent repeating.  Much like my Omelette experiments of my teen and twenty years I have reached a place where often what goes into the soup is directly dependant on what goodies I find in the fridge and pantry.  As with most things, necessity breeds creativity and we’ve come up with some truly interesting combinations on occasion.  I have been known to lay things out on the counter in groups trying to decide how best that the items I’ve found might work together.  I can honestly say that whether it’s a big change or a little tweak to the recipe I have rarely made the exact same recipe twice.  A lot of my online buddies call this method of cooking “garbage soup” since it’s primarily made up from bits and pieces of leftovers that never would have seen the light of day between fridge and stowaway container having jumped straight on through to science experiment.  Having been a little wary about telling people that I was feeding my family garbage for supper I started referring to it as supper surprise, but most often just dinner.

Don’t be afraid to experiment!  I have been known to challenge myself by adding new finds every so often.  I tend to run on the theory that I can try it and see what happens.  If the flavors don’t work well, or consistency isn’t quite right then I know I need to do something differently.  I remember one soup where I’d come upon some dehydrated green onions, and some mushrooms that had definitely gone past their prime.  They weren’t bad, but they looked as though we’d run them through a dehydrator.  I really wasn’t sure what to do with them, but since I’d promised myself that wherever possible I was going to reduce our waste, and make use of everything we could.  Waste not, want not and all that jazz.  Much to my surprise they reconstituted beautifully, and nobody could tell that there was anything different about them.

Thankfully my family has been very patient while I perform experiments.  Whether your soup is made completely from fresh ingredients, from leftovers in the fridge or a combination of the two, one thing is for certain having a crockpot on hand makes light work of making a heartwarming meal for all to enjoy, particularly on these cold winter days. That fact that it also alleviates all of the mealtime stressing from standing in front of the fridge with that perplexed look trying to decide what you’re going to make, right through to the actual standing over the stove is a real bonus.  I often set up a roast and potatoes in the crockpot while I’m making one night’s meals and put it in the fridge over night (without the liquid) so that the next morning anyone can take it out, add a couple of cups of water or broth and away we go!  It doesn’t get much easier than that. Your crockpot puts convenience back into a homemade meal, returns time to your busy day, and depending on how you utilize this culinary marvel, it can put money back in your pocket.

Here is this week’s edition of Budget Boo$ters - I hope that you find a little something in there to give your budget that little bit of wiggle room.  Please don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t get into the hang of it on the first, or even second and third try.  One day at a time! Some of the ideas I’ve seen around and about came across as way too committed to the cause for me in the beginning. Take from it what you will, and leave the rest.  This is your journey… make the most of it!

  • A pepper a day? Often recipes don’t call for a whole onion or green pepper, unless this is something you use often, the leftover piece can spoil before you come back for more.  To prevent waste, chop the whole vegetable up and put the unused portion in the freezer. This quick trick saves time, and it’s one less donation to the composter. Don’t feel like chopping it now, but want to save it before it spoils? Cut the pepper in half, take out the seeds and wash as normal. Lay it flat (inner side down) on the counter, flatten it by smacking it with your palm. Then drop into freezer bag, or freezer container and freeze.
  • Hard-boiled eggs will have a bright and sunny yellow centre every time if you try this simple method. Fill a pan with cold water to cover eggs. Bring the water to a boil.  Remove pan from heat and over. Let stand for 20 minutes. Eggs can then be cooled in cold water. This method saves electricity!
  • Accidentally over salt a dish while it’s cooking?  Drop in a peeled potato and it will absorb the excess salt for an instant fix.
  • Before peeling potatoes, soak them in a bowl of ice water for a couple of minutes to loosen the skin.  If you want to keep peeled potatoes white while cooking, drop a teaspoon of white vinegar into the boiling water.
  • Use powdered milk when baking, it's cheaper and no one will taste the difference.
  • When cleaning dust or pet hair from free standing fans, window unit air conditioning filters or venetian blinds, use a dryer sheet.  Not only will this remove the dust and hair faster, but after prolonged use it creates a protective coating on the wires of the fan for even easier dust removal!
  • Make a box of baking soda work for you twice by first using it to deodorize the refrigerator, under sink or in freezer – then use it to clean and polish with.
  • Pouring vinegar down the sink to freshen the smell is an idea that’s been around forever – pull double dity by using the vinegar first through the coffee pot to clean it, then run the USED vinegar down the sink. It will work just as well, and your sink won’t know the difference. It just makes cents!
I hope you have found this edition of Budget Boo$ters help useful. If you have a Budget Boo$ter item to share please leave me a comment or send me an e-mail.