Monday, January 31, 2011

Wrapping Up Another Month

Well, it’s now the end of January, and I am warding off discouragement.   We did have some fun milestones this month, namely burning our VISA, but the progress still feels painfully slow!

This month, we caught up on the $185 we’d over spent on Christmas last month, but we didn’t make any further extra payments on our debts.  We did ok making a budget covering everything that would come up in the month and sticking to it.  That is, we did until our van needed brakes ASAP, and we took that money out of our emergency funds.  I’m glad we had it there, but now it means instead of making extra credit card payments this month, we’ll be needing to refill that emergency fund.  At least, because we got our interest rate lowered, the payment we do make will take us a little further.

I’m still battling to get our grocery budget down, and will be doing a few more break downs on meal costs.

I am glad that we are, at least, not going into the hole each month any more.  I admit, though, that I wanted to see an actual amount that we would be using to pay things down more often.  I don’t want our progress to be “ well, we’re keeping afloat at least”. 

When I sat down to make our February budget, I was able to make the math work, and cover everything that will be coming up this month.  But unless Shawn ends up with some unexpected overtime, we won’t be making any extra debt payments.  “Birthday Season” starts at our house this month too, so I will thinking, and writing, about doing that on the amount we could fit into our budget.

As I go get groceries this morning, in this –44 morning, I am going to pray about my discouragement, and focus on how good it is to have come at least this far in our journey.  And drink lots of HOT coffee!  How does your month wrap up feel this week?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Gift Stash

Does anyone else keep a gift stash like I do?  Throughout the year, as I see things that would make good gifts, I grab them and put them in my craft closet.  Sometimes, there are things I think would be good for a specific person whose birthday is still a couple months away.  Sometimes, they are gifts I think would just be handy to have around.  I’m always on the lookout for neat little things that become stocking-stuffers.

Because I am able to find great deals, this often saves me money.  Several times my gift stash has saved me when one of my kids has been invited to a party last minute.  Other times, when the budget hasn’t had any wiggle room, I’ve still been able to have a great gift on hand to give.  Over the years, my stash has been depleted and re-stocked several times.  I usually try to grab a few neat toys in all the after Christmas sales to keep on hand, but this January we didn’t have room in the budget.  After having used up my stash over the holidays, I am feeling like that cupboard is quite bare!

There are a few things left, mostly things for specific people who have birthdays etc coming up.  Over the years, here are some of the things I have had in there:A giant tub of play-doh, Crayola Colour Wonder sets, Lego,children’s books, both for my kids and their friends, A Toronto Maple Leafs T-Shirt for my Father in Law, war history DVD’s, A knife set,video game, baby items like bibs, blankets and outfits and kid’s movies.  I picked up lots of little things at garage sales during the summer which I put away for my kids to get throughout the year.

As I have used up most of my stash now, I have gone back into stocking up mode, looking for good deals that fit into my budget.  Recently, I picked up “Clue Jr.” at superstore.  They have a whole rack of them on sale for $10 right now.  I think that’s a good gift to have on hand, since lots of kids like board games.

My friend( whom I have already said should be a contributing writer to this blog since she gives me so many ideas) says she crochets a bunch of dishcloths to have on hand. That way, when she wants to give some to all her kid’s teachers, or needs a bunch all at the same time, she doesn’t have to go crazy getting them all done.   I am totally going to use that idea!  Might be a good idea for me to crochet some of the items I’m planning on making for people in my life ahead of time.  Since I’m naturally a procrastinator, this would save me lots of last minute rushing around and stress!

What types of things do you keep on hand? Anything turn out to be not worth keeping on hand?  Was anything a life, or budget saver?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

“Snow Spots”

A friend of mine was blogging about things we think up to keep our kids busy this week, and it totally inspired me to share some of the crazy things we do at our house.  Many of our friends laugh and say “only at your house” when they see what we play with the kids.  I thought I’d spread them out and share some of my free,silly and fun activities.

The first one that comes to mind is “snow spots”.  It started when we were reading “The Cat in The Hat Comes Back” to our kids.  The cat, and his little cats make spots in the house, and then send them outside, where the new problem becomes snow spots all over the yard. I thought it would be fun to let the kids paint snow spots out in the snow.  We’ve been doing this regularly for years now, and they look forward to it every winter.

DSC_0021All you need is a few drops of food colouring in a squeeze or squirt or spray bottle.  I usually add warm water, so it doesn’t freeze once you’re outside.  Sometimes, I make it in big pitchers and just keep refilling the squirt bottles.

DSC_0086 Lily even liked trying it when she was about one.  I just made sure to wash the snow suits soon after they came back inside.

DSC_0077 Over the years, we’ve written our names, drawn pictures and sprayed wildly all over the yard.  The kids really like “painting” their snow forts.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Are You Willing To Pay For Convenience?

This week, I have had to pay for two things that got me thinking about this question.  I ordered cheques, and I bought a quicken program.  And since I planned neither of these things in the first place, both kinda irked me.

My banking plan does not include free cheques.  I knew this when we opened this account.  I have never sat down, however, and figured out what it costs me to have cheques.  Let’s face it, I don’t need cheques, they are just to make life a bit more convenient for me.  At one time, they were almost a necessity, I think.  I don’t need them to pay bills, I use online banking.  I don’t need them to order things from a catalogue, or online, I can use my credit card for that.  I don’t need them to inform someone of what my account number is for direct deposit or direct withdrawal reasons, I can just tell them, or have the bank fill out a quick form.  But that would be less convenient!   would have to go to the bank! 

I have only just now used the 50 cheques I originally ordered when we opened this account two and a half years ago.  When I sit and think about who I have written them to, I realize that they were all times I could have used cash instead.  I can pay my hairdresser in cash.  I can send cash for school book orders.  I can pay cash to sign my kids up at gymnastics or swimming lessons.  I have written cheques for such dumb amounts as $3.50 for a hot lunch at the school.  The reason I use cheques is because it’s more convenient for me than carrying cash. 

I don’t usually carry cash anymore, it’s just easier to use my debit card wisely.  To pay for the things I have been using cheques for, I would have to keep different denominations on hand.  It’s one thing to say I’ll have a $20 bill for when I sign up the first week of mom’s morning out, but it’s a lot more to plan on having $13.52 for a book order.

All this to say, I realize that I have been using cheques because it’s easier.  But what is that costing me?  I just ordered 50 of the most basic cheques.  No extra sayings or cute pictures.  They cost $35 including shipping, that’s 70 cents per cheque!  Ok, that’s not a ton, but it adds up.  It seems even sillier to pay that for the cheque if it’s only $3.50!  In the future, I think I will plan ahead on my way to the hairdresser’s and stop at the ATM.  I may even try to keep a bit of cash on hand for those things that always seem to come up at school like lunches, book orders, or fundraisers.  Every time i consider writing a cheque, I’m sure I’ll be thinking “ is this worth the extra 70 cents?”.

After I bought, installed and set up quicken’s “Money Manager” program, I regretted it.  Oh, it’s a great program, I have always loved the quicken line-up of software, and every year I buy their tax program for the easiest taxes ever. ( I highly recommend this!)  Since my previous quicken expired, I have created a spreadsheet which basically does the same thing for me.  I use it like a cheque register to plan and record what is going into and out of our account in a given month.  It does the math for me.  I can track what category a given purchase falls into, and create a budget planning what we will spend in each area for that month.  Yup, I’m a nerd, and I spent a lot of time on this.  Then, I got an even better spread sheet from the budgeting presentation we had at Mom’s Morning Out.  But, I wanted it to re-organize transactions by date as I put new stuff in.  Ok, I probably could have figured out how to continue tweaking my spreadsheet, or I could have asked some of my friends who are even bigger spreadsheet addicts than me.  I also like the convenience of downloading transactions straight from my on-line banking instead of flipping from window to window.  Ok, I could have done that too, I suppose, if I’d tried a little harder to figure it out.  The program has a couple of quirks that annoy me, like you can’t post transfers between accounts, so it shows up as an uncategorized transaction and keeps going back to it, asking you to put it in a category.  I don’t really like their budgeting system, I still prefer my own.  The program is worth about $40.

Even the spread sheet was the first step in “convenience”.  I used to use a paper check register, and track all of our transactions.  I can do that.

The quicken comes with a money back satisfaction guarantee, apparently, so I may still see if I can return it.  Though, since it was a program that is downloaded, I’m not sure how a return would work?  I may have to check in with some of my spreadsheet loving friends this week about the couple of things I would like to tweak…

So, that was two things this week I paid for because they were “more convenient”.  Which is just a polite way of saying I paid for them because I am too lazy to do something another way.  Have you ever paid for something and then realized you bought it only to make it “easier” or “more convenient”?  Would the alternate route have been that hard? Was it worth it?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Great Idea Deserves to be Shared

One of the things I have enjoyed about sharing my frugal ideas with others is hearing theirs in return.  A friend of mine has so many great ideas, it’s a wonder she isn’t writing this blog! Haha!  Anyway, here is one of her ideas I wanted to pass on to you.

Buy bulk post cards from Vista Print when they are on sale with an image that works for boys or girls, and have the message read simply “ Happy Birthday!”.  Then you can always write your own personalized message on the back, and you’ll always have birthday cards on hand for those last minute classmate’s parties. 

I love this idea!  You could also order them in a “Thank You” theme if you are getting married, or are someone who uses thank you cards often.  Hey, they’d even be great if they read “Thinking of You”.  You can put them in an envelope as a stylish card, or write a short note and mail them as a post card. 

Right now, Vista Print has a special on, you can order 100 cards for FREE.  Might be worth checking out!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cost Break-Down: Breaded Tenderloin Supper

Breaded tenderloin supper is one of our family’s favourites.  Everybody gets excited when it’s on that days’ menu.  It’s usually a real treat meal for us.  So, last week, when we enjoyed it, I took the extra time to weigh or measure out all the parts and figure the cost for each component.  I’ll spare you too much of the extra math, but I will add it in a comment afterwards in case you’re curious how I got my numbers.

To bread the tenderloin, I dredge it in flour, then egg mixed with a small amount of water, then the breading. ( I can add a comment about the why and how of all the steps afterwards too). I use any sweet corn based cereal to bread.

75g flour : $0.05
125g Corn Pops: $1.33
1 egg : $0.16
3 lbs potatoes: $0.90
400g frozen corn : $0.99
250ml canola oil for frying: $0.58
Lemonade to drink: $0.67

Once I add in the cost of the pound of moose tenderloin ( which I calculated to be $0.52...if you want to know how I got that number see my post on the cost of our wild meat: Cost Break-Down of Our Family's Meat)
My actual cost for this meal was : $5.20 Wow, I guess I don’t have to feel like it’s only a treat!  That was 6 steaks and sides.  I have enough potatoes left over to fry as lunch tomorrow with the corn, I really could have cooked about half as much potatoes and corn.  I also had too much breading, but once you’ve dragged the raw meat through it, you can’t just save it for next time.  I could cut costs but simply not using as much next time.

Now, I never buy meat, but I looked at the flyers this week to see what you’d have to add if you did.  If you ditch the lemonade, and buy sirloin steaks, they are $3.99 a pound. You’re total meal cost would be $8 ( if you used a pound of the steak).  Or, the breading would be really good on chicken too.  For a pound of bone in, skin removed, split chicken breasts($3.79 a pound this week), you’re total cost would be $7.80.  Lots of these ingredients fluctuate in cost, but this is what making it this time cost me.

Additional Notes:
How I got these numbers:

10 kg bag of flour, I bought for $5.98. Divide by 100 to find the cost of 100g of flour :5.9 cents ( I rounded to 6 cents). cost of 75g of flour (6c X .75) = 5c

725g box of corn pops:$7.67. 725/125=5.8, 7.67/5.8=1.325, I rounded up to $1.33

20lb bag of potatoes = $6.00 ( I know this fluctuates, but this is what I paid for the bag I currently have) that’s 30c a pound.  I measured the potatoes I used, and got 3lbs. 0.90

250ml canola oil: $7 for 3L (3000ml/250ml = 12) 7/12=58.3  I rounded to 58c.

400g frozen corn, microwaved:2kg bag= $4.98 (2000g/400g = 5) 4.98/5 = 99c

The cost of a single egg, I had already calculated when I did bread, and the meat was also in a separate post.

Breading Recipe Directions:
I always pound the steaks with a meat tenderizer first, so they are thin and even.

I got this recipe from Alton Brown’s cook book, and I love it! It always comes out fabulous and delicious.  He has lots of great tips and tricks.

Dredge in flour first, and shake off excess. This very thin layer provides primer for the egg layer which will then cement on the crumb layer.  Dredge through egg beaten with a bit of water. This is like a protein glue that keeps your crumb coat from staying in the frying pan instead of on your plate where you want it.  Let excess drip off.  Put meat in crumb layer and cover both sides.  Let meat rest for 30 minutes, then fry. ( I put mine on one of those cookie racks so the bottom doesn’t get soggy)
You can use lots of things for the crumb layer, but our family likes any corn based cereal.  It makes it a bit sweet, which is a neat addition to the meat, and it crisps up so nicely.  I have used Cap’n Crunch, and we also like Corn Pops.  I blitz them in the food processor.
You need to get your oil up to 350 degrees F ( yes I am a nerd and I use a thermometer).  If your oil goes below 325, your food will be soggy instead of crispy.  Oil should come about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the meat when you pan fry it.

There you are, I’ve given away my secret to the yummiest breading!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Whole New Playroom!

Just in case you were wondering how it turned out…

I can’t believe I got this done in one day, I thought it might take a week.  The kids fell in love with this space, running around and enjoying it again. Lessons learned for mommy, less really is more, and no they won’t miss it!



Next room I’m tackling?  I’ll have to decide either the laundry/storage room, or the storage room…

Wanna see what it looked like when I started?  Scary Playroom

Monday, January 17, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

Ok, not really.  But at my house spring cleaning has sprung at least.  Talking with many of my friends lately, I realized that lots of us get the itch to sort and clean everything and purge clutter from our homes right after Christmas.  I don’t know if it’s trying to find new places for all those new things that inspires it or not.  Maybe its the knowledge that, where we live at least, we are going to be cooped in the house for three or four more months.  We just don’t want to sit in the house and look at it, and it gives us something productive to do during the last of winter.  It’s a lot easier to ignore it in the summer!

I have started going room by room, doing a massive purge.  We purged once before we moved to this house, about 2 1/2 years ago, and we’ve even pared down lots while living here.  But there are just some things we kept holding onto, in case we found a place for it here.  I think this is a good time to go through it.  If we haven’t used an item since we moved here, odds are we don’t need it anyway! I started in the
basement, and am finished the craft room and the guest bedroom.  Now I have a huge pile of boxes that is growing, for a garage sale I plan to have this spring.  I have a couple of pieces of furniture that I need to haul up from downstairs and sell.

Today I am tackling the scariest room of all. THE PLAYROOM.  My kids have too many toys.  We’ve tried a lot of things to manage this room.  We’ve already cut out half the toys.  We’ve rotated boxes.  We have a floor to ceiling shelf system for the bins.  That’s just what’s inside the house, not to mention all the stuff that’s in the yard.  I hate this room.  The kids can’t play in it, because there is so much stuff, there isn’t actually room to play.  Even when the room is cleaned up, they don’t play that much with the toys.  Their favourite thing in the house to play with is whatever recent box daddy drags home for them, or better yet, Daddy himself.  Why bother owning the toys anyway?!?  Most days we go down there, I can’t ignore the mess and just play with the kids.  I begin picking up, and then I get angry at the way they’ve treated the toys, and a fight starts.  It always ends with me upset and yelling at them, and hating the toys even more! 

About a year ago, I finally had the last straw ( or so I’d thought!).  I boxed up every single thing they owned and stacked it all in a storage room.  The basement room, which is roughly 400 square feet, was empty from corner to corner.  I let them each pick one bin, and that was all they had for a week.  They earned back bins one at a time, a week later.  As they earned back a bin, Shawn and I would go through it and pare it down by throwing out whatever was unused or broken in it.  For a while, this made a huge impact on how they tidied their toys.  What stuck me most about the whole experience was how little they missed anything.  They loved simply having the place to run and play.  They enjoyed more time to imagine and pretend.  They didn’t ask for the toys, we had to remind them when it was time for them to earn a new bin.

That memory is inspiration for me today.  I want to give them a big room with space to just BE.  But it’s hard!!!  It strikes me today, as I look at the huge piles of stuff, sorted and yet to go through, how much money is wasted on clutter.  It’s not just mine either.  Up until this last year, my kids were the only grandkids for all of their seven grandparents.  We’ve all enjoyed buying them fun toys, but it really has become too much.  Clutter wastes money in several ways, first and foremost because I have been spending money on things that we don’t really need.  And sometimes, when I couldn’t find the thing I did actually need, I had to go and buy it again.  Hasn’t everyone done that at some point?

Another thing I have been pondering today is why it is so hard for me to part with the kid’s things.  Partly, I am influenced by the fact that my mom never got rid of anything of mine, and I feel like I am supposed to keep all the childhood toys forever.  Also, I think that most of my life, I have seen acquiring things as an accomplishment.  It feels a little like taking a step down on the accomplishment ladder to choose to give up things we have.  But why???  Lately, I have begun to feel like a slave to these things, needing to clean and maintain them takes so much of my time.  I’m tired of this burden! 

Cleaning this room today really has nothing to do with money for me.  Yes I plan to have a garage sale this spring, but that is not the driving reason behind what is becoming self imposed labour camp!  I want to be free of the burden of the junk.  I want to have time and space to enjoy my kids, my husband and my friends.

DSC_0060                                          DSC_0061 DSC_0062  DSC_0065DSC_0064  

Believe it or not, when I took these pictures, I had already been cleaning for over an hour.  Two garbage bags were hauled out, as well as several boxes to garage sale.  And I didn’t start with the messiest state this room could be in!  These pictures actually look pretty good….compared to how it often looks!  I had to stack and pile things, just to be able to walk through and decide what to do with the stuff! I had no spot to start from.

I’m heading back downstairs during nap time to make more headway today.  If no one hears from me by bedtime, maybe send someone to make sure I am not buried under an avalanche of toys? LOL!

In case you're wondering how it turned out... Playroom

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Makes You Feel Secure?

On my way to the grocery store this morning, an odd line of thought took up my drive. “What if something happens or one of the kids needs something, and we can’t pay for it?  Maybe I should have kept that credit card instead of burning it?”

I stewed over this for a while, and pondered why it worried me so much.  For many years, we have had no savings, but I always comforted myself with the idea that I could always deal with things by using a credit card.  I realized that I had been deriving a sense of security from that.  Suddenly finding myself without that (false) safety-net made me feel vulnerable.  I have believed it for so long, that I felt almost bare without that card.

The reality is, we now have some savings. True, it’s not a lot, but we will be able to deal with most things that could come up.  And really, since we never have to worry about medical bills thanks to our province and our health coverage through work, what could possibly come up that is REALLY a need?  Our savings would cover most things, if we didn’t have wiggle room for something that couldn’t wait, like say new boots if someone lost theirs.

But even these savings are not where my security is supposed to be.  No matter how much money I have in the bank, there is always some calamity that is possible.  There are things that could happen.  Who knows, maybe this is the year that the  North Saskatchewan River floods it’s banks!  What amount of money would change or prevent that?

Sitting and worrying about that is not a good use of my time, and not how God wants me to think.  He’s been showing me lately that my life is in His hands, because I placed it there.  True, I want to be wise and use the money He does bless us with wisely, but that is not what makes me feel secure when I think about the future.  I need to remember that God is in control, and that I am His daughter.  THAT is where my security needs to come from, no matter what!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I love Love LOVE the Library!

If you and your kids watch the backyardigans, you might recognize that line from “The Masked Retriever” episode.  At our house, this is a very real thought.  And lots of times, it’s also a very real song, as the kids sing along….

Today I am focusing on some of the many great things about our local library.  Yes, yes, they have books of course, and for a book worm like me, that is enough to inspire a visit.  But there are so many other great things that I have been discovering since taking my kids there.  Our library is part of a consortium of the province’s libraries, so they will order in and hold any item from any other branch in the province.  You can borrow books, movies, CDs and even patterns! Yes, they have kids stuff of course, and that is what many of us think of as the list of things the library has to offer.

But our library also has lots of things to do!  There are knitting classes, which I was tempted to go to this year, but it didn’t work into my schedule.  There are kid’s and teen’s crafts.  One of my favourite features is our library’s full size theatre.  They play kids movies every day of school holidays, like Christmas or winter break.  Most often they are very recent movies, including some of the newest Disney films.  I love taking my kids to see movies there.  I’ve never seen it packed, the seats are great and in good shape, and it is always super clean.  No, you can’t eat snacks during the movie, but I think that’s a small thing compared to what I’m getting.  There are after school science clubs, and anime appreciation club, and so many more!

Last night I took Colleena to pre-school story time.  Yes, we read a lot of books at home together, but this way she gets to feel part of a group and do activities with someone other than mom.  She’s been looking forward to going for a few weeks, and feels like this is her “pre-school time”.  It was special to go out, just her and mom ( we left Daddy at home with Baden and Lily), and she got to read some great books, do a couple of great activities and then make a fun craft to bring home. Mommy got 45 minutes all alone to hang out in the library, a rare treat for me.  She got to experience a lot of the same things that Baden did in pre-school, like being part of a group, taking turns, following instructions and going along with a schedule of activities.  The class was led by a wonderfully friendly woman who was great with the kids.

All of these things are completely free.  There are also lots of summer programs at our library, and I’m looking forward to sharing them this summer too!  Check out your local library’s website, you might be pleasantly surprised at how much they have to offer!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cost Break-Down: Tacos

Our family LOVES tacos.  I make it once every week and a half or so, as a special meal, say on a Friday night, as a treat.  I think it’s a cheap way for the kids to feel like we’ve eaten a fun meal.  Now right off, I know there are ways I could cut the price of this meal down, but I wanted a real assessment of what we spend when we make it the same way we always do.  I started making my own taco spice mix a couple years ago, so I had to estimate the price of the seasoning.  I fry two pounds of meat, and I know this is the fastest way I could cut costs, but for us, the meat is the main filling, and I am also trying to have enough for the next day’s lunch left over. Our favourite way to use the left over meat, by the way, is to make a sandwich with toasted bread and a slice of processed cheese on top of the meat.  Our favourite toppings are lettuce, tomato, green pepper, sour cream, and of course lots of cheese!  One more tip, is to put shredded carrots ( I’ve also heard of zucchini) into the meat while you’re frying.  It stretches your meat, and something about the carrot enhances the flavour of the spices, making your meat spicier.  You get more “meat filling” without using any more spice packs than if you just fried the single pound of meat.  It’s also one more veggie, if those are hard to get in around your table.

So here is what I spent, when I made tacos this week ( didn’t use carrots this time):

Shells (18 pack of Old El Paso): $4.29
Green Pepper: $0.52
Lettuce: $0.53
Tomato: $0.94
Sour Cream: $0.90
2 lb Ground Deer: $2.00
Cheese (200g): $2.20

Seasoning Mix (est): $0.75

That’s a total of $12.13!  
This is by far the most expensive meal I’ve broken down yet!  If you bought the two spice packs you’d need for this amount of meat at $1.69 ea (last time I looked) and you bought your two pounds of lean ground beef at the store ( for $1.78/ lb) then the total cost would be : $16.32!!

I was totally surprised by how high the cost was on this one.  In perspective, though, our family would spend at least $25 to eat out at a fast food restaurant, so eating at home is still a better bargain.  I still plan to eat and enjoy my tacos, and I will still probably smother them in all those rich, more expensive ingredients.  I think I’ll just make sure we aren’t enjoying them too often!

If you’re wondering how I came up with the cost of the wild meat we used, here is the link to that post: Cost Break-Down: Our Family's Meat.  Everything else I did by either by weight, like the cheese; and the lettuce etc I figured by looking at this week’s grocery bill. We used a third of the head of lettuce that I got for $1.59, so it was $0.53 worth of lettuce.

Satisfying Progress!!

DSC_0619  Taking this picture might have been one of the most fun, most satisfying things we have done for our finances since we started this challenge last summer!

We paid this credit card down as low as we could get it, then moved the small remaining balance to a much lower interest rate( from the credit card’s 20%   5%)
Consolidating helps us save and makes it easier to pay.

When I phoned to close out this account, I was told that I had outstanding reward points to cash out first.  I thought they added up to nothing, but it turns out, they added up to $100 in gift cards from one of the participating retailers.  I opted to have cards from a local hardware/home improvement store.  Now, for no extra cost to me, we’ll be able to use that towards some of the things we’d like to do around our house.  I was pretty excited!

But the day was going to get better yet!!  I was flipping channels when I saw a clip from that show “’til debt do us part”. Gail, the host was talking to  a couple ,asking how talking to their credit card company went.  She says that all anyone has to do is phone and ask for a lower rate.  Everyone can save money this easily! She’d said.  Well, I was sceptical, but figured I had 10 minutes to lose, so why not call?   I simply told the person on the phone that our family was trying to pay down our debts and would like a lower interest rate so we could make more headway.  And you know what? They cut my interest in half!!!!  We plan to continue making the payments we’ve been making anyway, and look forward to seeing more progress month by month!!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cost Break-Down: Our Family’s Meat

My husband hunts and fishes for almost every pound of meat our family eats.  I get alot of questions about the cost of hunting as a hobby, which makes me laugh, because you can definitely spend as much as you’d like if you’re going to go all high tech gear etc.Or if you travel to exotic locales.  So while there are a million possible additional costs here, I have taken the time to figure out what our specific hunting season cost us for the meat we gained.

Last years’ Moose:

Gas for return trip to hunting spot : $150

Draw Moose Tag: $55

Shawn’s moose was 900 pounds, conservatively estimated.  We got 400-450 pounds of meat ( again conservative estimate, since we didn’t weigh the total meat pile, but you can expect to get 50%-55% of an animal’s weight in usable meat).  We gut, butcher and wrap ourselves.  We also make our own sausages.  We have all the equipment needed, so our only added processing cost is the wrap we use.  We’ve figured that it costs $0.01 per pound to wrap the meat.

That means, that if every cut and type of meat is valued the same, a pound of moose meat cost us $0.52. This would include roasts, tenderloin, steaks, ground, jerky, stew meat, strip cuts….etc etc.  We get meat cut exactly how we want it, in the size of packages that our family likes.  Around here, it’s grain fed, and it’s hormone free. 

Last Year’s Deer:
Gas for return trip to hunting spot : $150
Tags for 4 does : $40
Ammo for 4 shots : $4

On average, each doe netted us 50 pounds ( averaged out between white tail deer and mule deer).  Again, including wrap, that works out to 200 pounds of meat for $196. That’s $0.98 a pound for that year’s trip.

Another deer example would be this year’s Mule buck: 

Gas: $100
Bullet: $1

Total meat was 110 pounds ( it was a NICE buck!) so that’s  $1.25 a pound ( including wrap).  And that’s about the most expensive number we could get for deer, since he only shot one deer that day, in the farthest he would hunt from home.

The following is what Shawn says would be the average Joe going hunting around his own home:

Doe tags: $20 ( for 2 does)

Ammo: $2
Gas: $40

The average doe nets you 40 pounds of meat ( again, conservative estimate based on average body weights mixed together of the white tail and mule deer does) SO, for 80 pounds of some of the finest meat there is, you have spent $1.56 a pound( including wrap).

I guarantee you are not going to go to the grocery store and buy tenderloin for any of the above prices.  Maaaaaaaybe the ground works out the same as the grocery store, depending on alot of things.

Ok, One more: Last weekend’s fishing trip:
Gas to fishing spot, again one of the furthest places we regularly drive : $40

Bait ( because Shawn insists on the good smelts): $10

Pounds of fish fillets: 15.  That works out to $2.67 per pound for the fish caught on that trip.  If you were to buy Northern Pike Fillets at the fish store here in town, you’d pay $8 a pound.  Seems like a good deal to me.

Now, alot of these numbers are based on averages, but Shawn plans to be a lot more scale crazy this year, and have more specific numbers to go by next year. See, I’m not the only calculator crazy nerd in the house :)

Cost Break-Down: Spaghetti Supper

I’m still struggling to get our grocery budget under control!  One of the things that is tripping me up is that I don’t know what we usually spend on an average meal at our house.  How can I try to spend less per meal, if I don’t know what I am spending now?  I have been trying to spend less but eat the same!  So in order to help me know which meals cost me more to trade them out with others, I am trying to figure out what some of our favourite suppers cost.

I make spaghetti once a week, because it’s quick, easy and my kids love it. Invariably, when I ask them which suppers they want me to plan on that week, they both say “spaghetti”!!  I use ground deer/moose/elk from the freezer, so to me, this cost doesn’t get included in the meal.  We pay for hunting costs in hunting season, and I don’t factor them into the grocery cost the rest of the year.  I use one can of tomato sauce, to which I add the meat and some spices that my kids like ( cumin and oregano).  I used to add mushrooms, but my kids requested I leave them out, so in trade, we have a spinach salad( spinach leaves, grated carrots and grated cheese with dressing).  Believe it or not, all my kids love spinach!  If I’m really on the ball that day, I make a loaf of bread to go with it.  I buy my spaghetti in those huge no name bags, and last time I made it, I figured out that I use about half the bag.

So here is my cost:
Can of NN tomato sauce :$1.07
Spices :$0.05
Spaghetti Noodles: $2.00
Spinach Salad, all ingredients:$1.50
Loaf of homemade Bread:$1.33

Which means this meal costs a grand total of : $5.95 ! That’s supper for 6-8 people and I usually have enough left-over's for one lunch. That’s pretty amazing!!  I could cut the cost more if I skipped the bread.  If you buy a pound of lean ground beef to add to yours, add $1.78 to that, making for a total of $7.73.

I’d love to know what some of your go-to low cost weekday meals are!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nifty Thrifty Gifty: Crayons

This is a craft I’ve done before with my kids, and this Christmas season made as a gift for some of their friends.  It’s a fun way to use up bits of crayons:

For this gift, we unwrapped crayons and broke them up into little pieces.  I had this sun-shaped pan from a previous craft.





The kids had a lot of fun helping!  After we’d put enough crayon bits into each mould, I put it in my toaster oven, on a medium heat so as not to warp then pan while melting the crayons. (Lesson learned from past experience).

After the wax was all cooled down, I pushed them gently out of the sun shapes.  I snapped a few getting them out, and realized that if I ran the underside of the pan in hot water for a few minutes, it softened up the edges just enough to make it easy to pop the crayons out.

This time, we made each crayon one colour to make a nice set as a gift, but in the past I have done this with mixed up shades of left over bits, and the kids still love using them.  A fun activity, even if you aren’t planning on giving them away.  If you don’t have moulds in shapes, like this one, or chocolate moulds that can be picked up pretty cheap at any store, you can always make them in muffin tins, or even use a bunch of tin cans.  I wouldn’t use a pan or mould you intend to use for food again in the future though, since it does stain and leach colour into the silicone of the pans.

I feel almost silly to admit that in the end, my total cost for this gift was $0.  Made entirely out of stuff we had on hand, it’s a great idea to keep in mind.

And the Poll Results Are…..

So those of you who read regularly know about the poll I’ve had posted for everyone to answer.  It closed at Christmas, and here are the final results:

Which of the following would you consider acceptable as gifts?( 22 people answered)

Garage Sale find (19)
Re-gifted Item  (21)
Thrift Store Purchase  (19)
Item from Giver’s Home  (19)

I have to admit, I am happily surprised with that.  I thought that people would think less of gifts if they knew that they came from one of these places.  Maybe I haven’t been giving the people in my life enough credit!  What about you? Are you surprised too?

Working on another poll…stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Does Money Affect Who Our Friends Are?

Okay, let me say right off that I don’t know the answer, I’m throwing it out there as a discussion question.  I’d LIKE to say no, but I think the real world answer is more complicated than that.

I think that, subconsciously, it probably affect us more than we know.  Most of us tend to make friends with people who go to the places we go, do the things we do, and enjoy the things we enjoy.  So lots of times, those people tend to be in the same general financial state we are in.  I, for one, wouldn’t have that many opportunities to rub shoulders with yacht-owning multi-millionaires to discover that we have lots in common.  Most of the people I encounter in my life, I perceive to be somewhere in a spot somewhat similar to me.  Of course, that’s just my perception, who knows what the reality is?  I have often met moms at the playground, who I was sure from first impression were very well off and somewhat snobby, but later met them for real and discovered they were great people.  I don’t know what their first impression was of me.

I personally feel intimidated and a little “out of my league” around people I think are in much better financial shape than me.  I don’t know why that is, and it’s not something I love about myself, but I am being honest here.  There is a certain award-winning Christian author who goes to our church, and whom many of my friends know and love.  I have always been, well not quite intimidated, but I guess I felt like “why would she want to hang out with me?” “ they must really have it all together, I mean she is an AUTHOR!”.  Dumb huh? ( Haha, you know who you are :P  ) Then one day, I realized we had something in common, and we struck up a conversation, and you know what? I really like her.  I mean I always knew she was nice, but I guess once the imaginary pedestal I had put her on was gone, I realized that she is another Christian wife, woman and mother going through life.  I really love her company…and her crocheting advice.  The pedestal I imagined her on had nothing to do with money, but I think we do tend to put others on these imaginary pedestals when it comes to this area, and it affects how we see them, and how we relate to them.

Doing this blog, and speaking to my mom’s group about money, has really opened my eyes.  People feel free to come up to me and talk about money, or mistakes they have made too.  Its been one of the most interesting things to me, how so many people make mistakes and our perception of them is that they don’t.  Talking to others about how this affects friendships has been interesting too.

It’s easy to see how you most often meet new friends in the same financial class as you envision yourself.  But what about old friends?  If you have been friends with someone since high school, and your financial pictures have slowly changed until there is a huge divide, does how close you are with them slowly change?  If you are still friends, does it affect the relationship?  If you used to enjoy tent camping together and now one of you is a multi-millionaire who travels the world in first class, are you still going camping in a tent each summer?

What about in families?  Are you and your siblings in roughly the same places? Do you expect that?  How do you feel if one of your siblings is much wealthier than you? If you are the sibling who has worked hard and built things up, do you feel annoyed when the other sibling seems to feel entitled to what you have or to imply that they will still do better than you, as if it is a competition?  How do you interact with those who are nowhere near as wealthy as you are right now?  Do you feel free to strike up a conversation with that mom at the playground who you perceive to be really wealthy? I have to admit, I’d feel intimidated.   What about a friend who makes three times what you do, but is always complaining that they can barely afford to live? 

In what ways has money affected the relationships in your life?

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