Tuesday, November 30, 2010

End of November Report

Here are our November numbers:

Planned spending - down $219.04
Xmas Fund - down $811.51
Emergency fund - down $290.00
RRSP - added $71.74
General Savings - down $94.46
Can. Saving Bond - added unknown amount

$100 paid to Personal Loan
$142.42 paid to CC with 28% int. rate
$150 paid to CC with 0% int. rate
$215.95 paid to Auto Loan
used and paid off immediately, HBC card with 28.8% int. rate

We put a total of $71.74 into our various saving pots this month.
We paid a total of $608.37 toward our debt this month.

The accounting for our bills and such got a little wonky, due to B's workplace being switched from weekly to bi-weekly pay periods. In anticipation of an adjustment period, B switched all his weekly payments and reduced the overall amount being paid, except for his Auto Loan, which cannot be changed to bi-weekly.

We depleted the Xmas Account to purchase gifts for the holidays. We are almost completely done shopping, save a few small stocking stuffers left to go. We also depleted the planned spending as we needed some extra monies to help out with the groceries and stuff for the house.

Overall, we had a good month. Our debt didn't increase, but our assets did decrease some. I'm working at bringing more money into the house, and keeping down our expenses. I expect that the month of December will be all about writing down our goals for 2011 and doing a recap of what we have accomplished in 2010.

How did you do this month?

Finally, some work!

After a mere 49 days without a source of income other than our Emergency Essential Expenses fund, I finally got a call for work.

Please understand, I am not unemployed. I am self-employed. I have done lots of work in the last 49 days. I just wasn't receiving any income for it. To get a call call for a contract, however small, is good. It seems to me, that in this business, when you are busy, you tend to get more and more work handed to you. I have been doing some ground work for the two new contracts that have come my way in the last 49 days. These contracts are long-term, and will enable me to bring in an undefined amount of income. I'm guessing that the value of these two contracts alone will bring in $40,000- $50,000 per year gross. When added to the existing long-term contract I already hold, I may be looking at anywhere from $50,000 - $95,000 in business income for 2011.

I'll have a story for you tomorrow about the horrors of dealing with Bell Canada and their Credit Collection Agency of choice, NCO Financial. For now, I'll just say, that they will try to hold someone else liable for an account not in their name.

Taking DS to playgroup today, then home for time with DD1, and a lovely evening planned for time with all 3 of my kids.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Upcoming Shopping Season - Almost Done

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American neighbours!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the holiday shopping rush, at least in the U.S. All through the year we have been saving our money for this specific event. Christmas shopping. Oh, how I dread the thought. I want nothing to do with all the craziness that goes on in the malls at this time. In years past, I was always happy to have my shopping finished early, so that when I *had* to go to the mall, I could go about my business as quickly as possible.

We met our goal of having $1100 set aside for Christmas. This is/was our budget for all gifts for the family, not including myself. If I gotta buy my own gift, and then wrap it, it just doesn't feel the same to me. We have purchased some major gifts, including a 32" LCD HDTV flatscreen for the family, a large train table playset for our son, a Super Mario 25th Anniversary Edition DSiXL and Bowser's Inside Story game for DS2.

I also purchased a few things for hubby, some as Christmas gifts, and some as birthday gifts seeing as his birthday is December 26th. We have likely gone over our alloted Christmas budget, but only by a few dollars. We still have 3 gifts left to buy, and one $10.00 giftcard left to purchase. I'm looking at spending another $175 for these items, tax included. As soon as that's done, we will be officially finished Christmas shopping!

We made an arrangement with BIL that we would not exchange gifts this year. Instead he will get a card made by one of the kids, with our family photo included. My one neice,her husband and children are coming in from out of province for the holidays. While they are here, we are springing for the cost of childcare, so the four of us can go out for sushi dinner, and then to bingo afterward. Seeing as he just got back from overseas with the military, the very fact that he is able to be with us for a night of fun is more than enough of a gift for me.

I am still dilligently working away on homemade gifts of knitted dishcloths, a hat for DS2, a blanket for the grandson that will be born soon, as well as some heating pads, and mitt/glove warmers. I also have plans to make some Irish Cream for our adult friends (they loved this last year), some instant flavoured coffee mixes, and some seasoning mixes to gift.

During the month of December, while everyone else is in a rush to get things done, I will be able to slow down and enjoy some activities with friends and family. The year long planning will be well worth it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Having a Child with MCAD (Medium Chain Acyl Co-A Dehydrogenase Deficiency)

As you may or may not know, we have a beautiful little boy named Douglas. He was born on March 17, 2008. He is my third child, and my hubby's first and only. All the familiar things happened during his birth. Nothing remarkable happened. He was given eye drops, had his Apgar score given, and was deemed healthy and beautiful. The following evening, the nurse took him for a little while, to prick his heel to take blood for the testing that needed to be done. I wasn't unfamiliar with Newborn Screening, so I wasn't worried in the least.

We brought our little bundle of joy home, and began to learn to live with a wee baby in our household. He was born on a Monday. St. Patrick's Day. The joke is: " We had a part Dutch, part Native child born on an Irish holiday. We're pretty sure he already has a drinking problem!" (Sorry if this offends anyone.) We planned to leave our little man with our then 17 year old daughter on the following Thursday night so we could have a date night.

On Thursday, we started getting phone calls. The first one was from hubby's family doctor. We had intended for him to provide follow-up care for Douglas, and to be his doctor. The call was brief, but urgent. The hospital was trying to get ahold of us with regard to Douglas' blood testing. Something had come up. Try not to worry.

Yeah right. Then my doctor's office called. Linda put me on hold while she got the doctor to the phone. I have never had the doctor speak directly to me before. It seems that there was a 'screen positive' for something on the Newborn screening tests. They actually test for somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 different genetic conditions. Confirmatory testing needed to be done. Call this other doctor at the hospital and they will give you further insructions. In the meantime, do NOT let the little guy go without eating for more than 2 hours. Wake him up to do it if you have to!

WHAT?!?! I *thought* they said he was fine, healthy, ok to come home? What in Earth is going on? Having just given birth a few days prior, my hormones and emotions are already all over the place. What the **** is going on? I cried. Hubby cried. They kept saying MCAD. I hit the internet hard. We had to pull it together as it was Easter weekend. Our other kids were still expecting the bunny to bring gifts and chocolate.

Tuesday (8 days after birth) we take our precious baby for special testing. We meet with a medical geneticist, who explains that the Newborn Screening is a way to help determine if any child *could* have any of the medical conditions that they screen for. They *think* that Douglas could have one of two conditions, MCAD or GA-1. Until we know for sure, baby must be treated as though he has MCAD. If he becomes ill at all, bring him into Emerg. Feed every 2 hours, no exceptions. If you have trouble waking him, call an ambulance. Now go home, and try not to worry. HA HA HA!!

We cry more. Could we lose our baby to this condition? Yes. More crying. They talked about caloric intake, how illness can lead to a metabolic crisis, and cause some terrible things. Lethargy, seizures, coma, even death. Scary for any parent. Especially for hubby, being a first time parent. We felt like we were in a whirlwind of emotions. It's hard to enjoy your new baby thinking that any day could be the last already. With me being a funeral director, I already have more than enough of death in my life. I couldn't handle death coming into my home, my family.

Thursday, 10 days after giving birth, we go out for our date night. I am half way into a cold glass of beer, and hubby is up singing some karaoke. Some of our outer family are there, celebrating our sons birth with us. My cell phone rings. It's my daughter. Mommy, something is wrong with the baby. He's shaking, like a seizure. I can't get him to stop. I'm scared. What do I do? I signalled to hubby we had to go NOW!! I stayed on the phone with her while hubby broke the speed of sound driving home. The seizures had stopped, and his little eyes were open, but he was drained physically. He was limp, but breathing. He was grey in colour. We put him in his carseat and drove to the hospital.

I could write a whole separate post on just our Emergency room experience, but let me just say, they thought we were nuts. Probably thought we were overconcerned new parents. It was a fight to get them to call the medical geneticist. Then he had another seizure, while I was trying to feed him some sugar water. There was a flurry of activity, as they worked on him. I couldn't stop crying. I was thinking that my precious boy that I had waited 17 years for was going to die. Then he was stable again. That 10 second seizure seemed like hours. It was the longest 10 seconds of my life.

He was admitted to hospital. It turns out he had a urinary tract infection. The geneticist came, and talked with the chief paediatrician. They learned very quickly that our boy had a rare condition, and not to take our concerns lightly. This is how we found out that it was confirmed that our son had Medium Chain Acy Co-A Dehydrogenase Deficiency. His little body doesn't break down fats properly, nor does his body store fats. When he becomes ill, he has no fat stores to draw caloric energy from for his body to continue normal function. It takes the energy from his organs if he doesn't eat regularly. If this happens, there can be serious consequences.

Living with a child with MCAD has been a learning experience, for us and for the medical community in which we live. We have become parent teachers, speaking to groups of medical students of our experiences with Douglas. We stress the importance of listening to parents about their concerns. His condition is easily treatable, but sadly, not curable. Scientists have yet to figure out how to change the mutated gene in his DNA.

For children with MCAD, the first year is the hardest. After that, it gets easier to deal with. Many children have died from this condition. Many more live with treatment. We are thankful to still have our son with us. He will be celebrating his third birthday in March. We celebrate him everyday.

For more information on MCAD, try this link:


For more info on Newborn Screening, try this link:


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Baby Shower

On Sunday, we held a baby shower for my 21 year old daughter and her boyfriend. They are expecting their first child in December. It was a group effort. I'd like to thank Jocelyn and Brodie for sharing their home with us, Linda for helping with the invitations and the cake, Laurie for assistance with the games, and to all of those who were there or sent gifts to make the day a special one for the happy couple.

I managed to stay way under budget for this event, spending only $150 in total, not including the gift. I have about $200 left that I had budgeted, so I will be spending the remaining funds on the purchase of a new crib mattress, diapers and the remaining on a gift card so that they can buy whatever they may still need.

The Mommy and Daddy to be spent an hour and a half opening gifts. They got diapers and wipes, clothes, and a wide variety of baby related items that they might need, and even a few that they only wanted. It's amazing the array of really cute baby items that are out there!

I'm still slowly working on the hand knitted blanket that I hope that they will use to cover the baby in for his first pictures (yes, it's a boy). Maybe I should hold onto some of the money for the waiting game at the hospital when she goes into labour. I'm guessing Tim Horton's will be loving us that day! Knowing that it's very possible that they will be having the baby during the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day/Boxing Day stretch, I'm trying to get all of our gift wrapping and buying done ahead of time. I don't want to be worrying about gift wrapping while I'm watching my grandson being born!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Have Enough Insurance?

I have to admit, I loathe paying for insurance. I don't like that I am paying for something that I may or may not get something out of. The very idea of it is odd to me, but the reality is that bad things can happen. To anyone. And the easiest way to mitigate your risk is to have insurance. Another thing that really bugs me about the insurance industry is that certain products are given fancy names. I'm not alking about the 'Maulife One Account' or even 'Freedom 55 Account'. I mean life insurance. They are not replacing life. They are replacing income earning ability. It should really be called Income Replacement Insurance.

You need to have auto insurance on your vehicle if you want to drive in Ontario. I get that. You should have some sort of insurance on your home, or if you're renting, at least on the contents, should something happen like being a victim of a break-in, or a water pipe breakage. If you're self-employed, you should have some sort of illness and disability insurance so that you can keep some income coming in, and keep your business afloat if you cannot work for those reasons. All these insurances make good sense from a financial standpoint.

I truly believe the best option is to self insure wherever possible. People should have enough cash reserves at their call to make payments on time if they are unable to work, for whatever reason. I call this my Emergency Essential Expenses account. I am striving to have 10 months worth of expenses in this account, so that all our financial obligations will be met, regardless of my ability to bring in an income.

I can't really self insure with my vehicle, as law requires that I have insurance if I want to continue to drive.

Income replacement insurance, or life insurance if you will, is something that I only have a minimal amount of through B's work. Life insurance is sold as a product that will help you to pay the final expenses and replace the income after the death of a loved one.

My final expenses would be better taken care of in another way, I feel. A pre-paid funeral contract with a funeral service provider is the best way to make sure that my funeral is paid for. There are many benefits to these contracts. I get to choose the products and services I would like for myself, reducing the amazing amount of decisions that need to be made by my family. There are tax advantages as well. Much like a TFSA, you can deposit up to $35,000 in your lifetime into an eligible funeral arrangement, and have the growth accumulate tax-free.


To summarize, I have some life insurance, auto insurance, business insurance, renters insurance, critical illness and disability insurance. Is that enough? I don't know, but it's better than most people I know.

Do you have enough insurance? What types of insurance do you have in place?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Unique Christmas Gifts Ideas

Here are some ideas that a general internet search has brought to me. Some of these ideas I can use right away this year. Others will be archived for future years' use.

1. Write a Christmas letter. You can make it look like a newsletter, or a vintage letter. However you you decide, you can update your extended family on the big news of the year in your family. There is even somewhere to send your addressed letters, that will ensure that the postmark will be from the North Pole! How cool is that?

The North Pole, Alaska post office will stamp all of your envelopes with their special holiday cancellation for no additional charge (you still need to put regular postage on your envelopes). All you have to do is adress and stamp your envelopes as you normally would. Then stick them all in a larger envelope and send them to:

North Pole Christmas Cancellation
c/o Postmaster
5400 Mail Trail
Fairbanks, AK 99709-9999

The North Pole elves (ok, postal employees) will then make sure your letters get sent to the appropriate addresses, just as if you'd dropped them at your local post office. To ensure delivery in time for Christmas, be sure to get your letters to the North Pole by December 15 at the very latest.

2. Make a wreath out of construction paper cut outs of your childrens hands. Let them pick colours, or have younger ones colour the hands. Cut a piece of cardboard into a ring the size you think you may use. Glue the paper hands to the ring, and attach a bow.

3. Refrigerator magnet that grows! Use a clean, transparent old prescription bottle. Attach a piece of magnetic to the back with glue. Add a small amount of soil, and a fast sprouting seed (think bean).

4. Write a children's story with your family members names as the characters. You can make up a fictional story or retell a favourite family event. You could hand print the story in a plain journal book. You could add photos, draw pictures or even use images cut from magazines to add the pictures to your story.

5. Make a button wreath ornament, or use buttons to make christmas themed ornaments.

6. Cookies in the shape of your childrens hands. Use some sturdy paper to trace your kids hands, cut out and use as a template for your cookies. use a sugar cookie recipe for the cookies.

7. Create a secret hollow book for someone. Find an old thick hardcover volume with an attractive title from the thrift shop. Glue the pages together and to the back cover but not to the front cover. Use an exacto knife to hollow out the pages, leaving at least half an inch of paper on all four sides. Put a handwritten message inside for the recipient.

8. Buy a photo frame from a thrift store and decorate it. Put a pic inside of your family, or your kids. Wrap and give.

9. Get small glass jars from the thrift store. Be sure to clean them completely. Fill with homemade spice mixes like taco seasonings or seasoning salt. Tie an attractive bow to the jar, or decorate another way. Be sure to label the jar with its contents.

10. Give a family tree photo album to a child. Find and reprint pictures of all the people in your family. Go as far as you can (or want to) in the family. Print the name of each person and their relationship to your child, (ie. aunt, cousin, great-grandfather) to put in the sleeve with each photo. You can get good used and sometimes new photo albums from a thrift store.

These are just a few of the great ideas I have found, or have come up with on my own. Frugal and unique, just like the gift giver. Please comment with some of your ideas below.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November Mid-Month Update

My goals for November are:

-fully fund Xmas Fund-$269.85 ($204.85 left)
-baby shower money-$500.00 I've reduced this goal to $200
-make 12 xmas gifts 6 gifts made
-open savings accounts for kids
-payment plan for lawyer
-Wardrobe month; go through clothing for each person in house and determine what stays, what goes & what's needed still have done this for the kids so far
-Xmas gifts in a jar - these were quite popular last year with our crowd, so I will make more this year, including some new recipes. Looked through recipes available and decided which ones to make

It's been a quiet month so far. I've been knitting, and working on some Christmas projects that I'd like to give as gifts. We started our Christmas shopping and got two of the major purchases done already, and are still deciding on the third one.

We went to a nearby city for their Gail Club meeting, and met some really great people. I would like to thank our hostess for allowing us all to meet in her home. I want to thank all the members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Gail Club for giving us some insight as to how they run their meetings. I hope that in the new year, our London club can be a bit more structured.

Here at home, Hubby got a lay off notice. It gave us a few days to come up with a of a contingency plan, should the warehouse where he works actually close. He was given the option however to take a different job in the warehouse with a $0.66 per hour paycut cut. That translates into an income loss of $1372.80 per year. Not a huge cut, but that's more than our annual christmas budget alone. I guess I'll find a way to carve that money out of our budget.

I'd like to be doing work for the new company by January and bringing in an income. It's been 49 days with no money coming in for me, and that is not something that I can say that I like very much. We have money to cover our major expenses, but I would like to have an income coming in again before our emergency essential expenses are completed depleted.

I have got to redo our debt repayment plan, as the huge Income Tax bill needs to be added, as well as a payment plan for the lawyer. I'm hoping to spend some time on this over the weekend, which will give us some new focus and perspective.

How is your month shaping up?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Financial Freedom Means

Financial experts and personal finance gurus talk about financial freedom. But what is that exactly? I think that maybe it's different for everybody. For some, it would be to have a net worth of $1 million dollars. For others, it would be to have enough money to travel the world. But for me, financial freedom is about having enough money accumulated so that I can stop worrying.

Having grown up in poverty, I like having a place to call home and not having to move every year or so. I would love to own a house of my own, and live there for the rest of my life. I enjoy having food readily accessible in my cupboards and freezer, so that I can make whatever meal strikes my fancy. Being able to pay the bills without worrying where the money is going to come from is something that also helps keep me centered. But there's more to it than that.

I already have the ability to work part-time hours for full-time pay, giving me the option of staying home with my son while he is still young. As he gets older, I plan to work more, and save more, so that we can meet some long-term goals we have of traveling the world, and owning a home. I'm grateful that I got a post-secondary education that allows me to work in a field that gives meaning to my work from helping others.

Financial freedom for me would be to have enough assets that we could live off the proceeds, enjoying family time and travel, without the necessity of continuing to work, (even though I'm a lifer). We're a couple of million short of that goal, but still aiming for it. I don't know if we'll ever get there, but in the meantime, I try to keep my life as balanced as I can. I won't trade off spending the first years of my sons life for a low paying job so that our debt will get paid off faster. We will continue to travel as our savings permit, because some day we may not have the good health we enjoy now. We give back to our community with our money, time and effort already. I don't anticipate this ever changing.

Having hoardes of money in savings and investments may equate to financial freedom for most folks. But for the most part, I think we have already achieved it, simply because we make our money work for us, instead of just working for our money. I worry less about how we are going to make it through rough times, and think more about all that I can do with what we already have.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Batch Freezer Cooking - Ground Beef

As part of my frugal lifestyle-in-training, I find the idea of batch freezer cooking to be one of the best tips that I've come across. The idea itself is not unique, but it certainly is a timesaver.

What does batch freezer cooking entail? Well, for me, it may be a bit different than for others. Some people will spend an entire day preparing everything for 4 or more different casserole dishes, cooking them, letting them cool, wrapping them in aluminum foil, and putting them in the freezer. For me though, I try to do things a bit simpler.

Many of the dishes that I prepare for my family and that they like start with some of the same main meat ingredient. Ground beef. Plain old hamburger. I take a lot of ground beef, say 5 to 10 pounds of the stuff, and brown it. I make sure its very crumbly by breaking it up oftern while browning it over a medium-low heat on the stovetop. I'll add diced onion and garlic, and some of our favourite spices, particularly chili powder. Not enough to make your eyes water, but just enough so that you can smell it cooking in the beef juices.

When it's finished browning, I drain the fat away using a large collander. If your family is on a fat-reduced meal plan like mine is, then you could pat the ground beef with paper towels to extract more of the remaining fat. I will take out a portion of the cooked ground beef for whatever dish I am making that night, then let the collander of ground beef sit for awhile, until it has cooled enough to handle. After cooling, the ground beef gets spread on a clean cookie sheet in a reasonably thin layer. The cookie sheet goes directly into the freezer above our fridge for half an hour or so. This rapid cooling/partial freezing helps the ground beef retain its crumbly texture.

Using a measuring cup, I measure out portions into reusable plastic containers. Some get 1 cup, some get 2, depending on how many containers I have available to me at the time. The sealed containers then get stacked and put into the apartment sized deep freezer that we have. They are ready for use at any time. You should probably not let them stay in the freezer for more than 12 months, but my ground beef containers never stay in the freezer for more than a month. Did I mention we eat alot of ground beef?

When I'm days that I'm feeling too lazy to do any real cooking, or if I know I'm going to be compressed for time, I can pull out a container from the freezer. Our standby meals using this mixture are: tacos, chili, spaghetti, shepard's pie, and another dish I make that has no name, but is comprised of the ground beef mix, a can of diced tomatoes, mixed with cooked elbow macaroni and topped with shredded cheese. Yum!

I haven't yet ventured into other batch freezer cooking ideas, but if they all suit us as well as this one does, I'm sure going to like pre-planning our meals a whole lot more. The benefits of doing this one thing save us money by not having to order out, or eat out as much, saving money by purchasing larger quantities of ground beef when it is on sale, as well as being able to provide a home cooked for my family when time is limited.

Do you use any batch freezer methods that are simple, yet extremely helpful? Please share your ideas.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Have a Will?

There have been times in my life that have caused me to think about how my family would survive if something were to happen to me. I don't mean ending up in a hospital kind of something, I mean dying suddenly and unexpectedly kind of something.

Where would my family live? Who would they live with? Would my hubby be able to stay home to provide for their emotional and physical needs or would he have to continue working? What would happen to all of my worldly possesions ?

We have a two year old son with a medical condition and an eleven year old who lives with us part-time. Making sure that they are taken care of is my greatest concern. Obviously, my ex would get full custody of my daughter, but I want to make sure that she would still be able to spend time with my hubby and her little brother. Hubby would have sole custody of the little guy. But arranging to keep close contact between the two kids would be a little sticky. How could that be arranged in a will? What happens if both hubby and I were to die at the same time, like in an auto accident or something? What then?

I would want all of my assets to go to my hubby, with some being set aside for all three of my children. I'd want certain items that mean a great deal to me for sentimental reasons to go to certain people. The only way I know that this will be done is to have a very specifically worded will.

In my line of work, I have on occasion encountered families who have had a loved one die without a will. Trying to determine who has the 'right' to make the funeral arrangements can be difficult in these situations. Determining who is responsible to sign the funeral contract and for paying it can be difficult as well. Who do you return personal items to? Having named an executor in a will would have avoided all these problem questions.

Writing a will takes thought, time and money. But that doesn't mean it has to be difficult. To start, sit down with a pen and paper, and write out a holograph will until you can make final decisions about who would look after your children if you and your spouse both died. A holograph will is a completely handwritten document, outlining your wishes for dependants and property. It cannot be typed. It must be signed and dated, but not witnessed by anyone else. In Ontario, they are completely legal, and can be used if a formal will written by a lawyer cannot be found.

Talk to your spouse about what you both would want. Remember to talk to the people you would choose to be responsible for your children. Ask their permission to name them as guardians, to see if this a responsibilty that they would be willing to undertake. Talk to your family about your wishes so that there are no surprises. Leaving your entire estate to a charity may seem like a good thing to do, but your adult children may be able to contest the will, tying up the process for a long time.

If you own anything (house, car), have children, have any assets (including that $600 in your bank account), you should have a will if you want anyone to have it. Without one, you are giving the government permission to divide your assets for you, after they take their share, of course. I personally feel the government has had its hands in my pocket enough while I'm alive. I don't want them getting any more than is neccessary when I'm gone.

Have a will? Is it updated and reflective of your current situation?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Frugal Gifts - Who?

As time inches closer to the upcoming holidays, I started thinking about frugal gifts. Why do we want to give them? To whom do we give them? Where and when should we give them? How do we approach giving them? Over the month of November, I plan to write a series of posts giving my thoughts and ideas on the subject, as well as ideas for frugal gifts to give.

When thinking about frugal gifts, who is it appropriate to give them to?
Think of all the people in your life that you give gifts to. Make a list. Children, parents, siblings, neices, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, friends, co-workers, newspaper delivery boy, are all people who you could give a frugal gift to. I don't think there is anyone on my list that wouldn't qualify for a frugal gift, to be honest. Folks who know me also know that we live and gift on a budget.

Reflect on the why of your gift giving gesture. Are you giving because you care for that person, and would like to give a gift as a gesture of your caring, or are you giving because you are trying to make an impression? For me, anyone who would think a frugal gift is inappropriate really isn't someone who I would want to give to anyway. I have no boss who I am trying to get a promotion from. I have no clientele who I want to get special treatment from. In fact, my gift giving impresses the people in my life because the gifts are frugal.

I hand make useful household items for relatives and friends. I make gifts-in-a-jar for people that reflect their individual tastes, like cookie and hot beverage mixes. I knit dishcloths and scarves for people in colours that they love. I know these things will be used too, unlike some dollar store trinket that I could have bought that will only take up space and require dusting (Did I mention I hate dusting?). I make gift tags from last years Christmas cards. I sew gift bags out of themed fabric to give gifts in, reducing waste, that can be reused for years to come.

I urge you to put some thought into frugal gift giving this year. Search the internet for ideas. There are literally thousands of items and how-to guides out there. If you have a particular frugal gift that you give, please share your idea with us in the comments below.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11, 2010

I'm sorry that I disappeared for a couple of days everyone. My schedule got very busy on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I had no time or energy to write.

B and I started our Christmas shopping yesterday. I'm happy to say we talked about what we're doing for the holiday, and what we're wanting to buy for each of the people on our gift list. With some negotiation and a last minute upgrade to a gift, we got the major purchases out of the way, and know what we're going to buy for the last 'big gift'. After some discussion with others, we agreed that B's brother would not buy anything for us, and we would buy nothing for him. B's mom said that there's nothing that she wants or needs, so not to worry about it. But how do you NOT buy/get something for you child's grandmother??

It feels good knowing that our Christmas shopping will be done by the end of this month. No trying to elbow our way through crowds of people at the mall. It also feels good to know that we have set this money aside in advance for these purchases. We don't have to use credit, borrow money, take a payday loan, or not make bill payments in order to buy gifts for Christmas. We may not be perfect, but I think we're on the right track now.

On this Remembrance Day here in Canada, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to the service men and women of our military for their sacrifices to God and Country. Today, at 11:00 a.m., I will stand still and silent, wherever I am, for one minute, as an act of honour for those who have died in service for the freedom of all Canadians and other citizens of the world. If you encounter a person in service uniform of any kind today, please shake their hand and thank them for your freedom.

To my neice's husband, Kevin, who is deployed in Afghanistan this very moment, I want to say thank you for what you and everyone else there is doing, and to please stay safe. I look forward to seeing you at Christmas.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Elm Creek Quilt Book Series

One of my personal goals for 2010 was to read 100 books during the year. I love to read, so I thought I would track how many books I actually read. Sometime in the spring, I actually stopped keeping a list of what I had read, not really sure why. But the library keeps a listing of books I've checked out, which I have access to online. I can delete the ones I didn't actually read. I can go back at year's end and count how many free books I've actually read. I'm going to keep it a surprise, even from myself.

Anyhow, during a conversation with one of the world's friendliest librarians, I asked about similar type books as The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. I truly enjoyed those, so she suggested The Elm Creek Quilt series by Jennifer Chiaverini. I knew absolutely nothing about quilting, but have a faint interest, as my grandmother was a quilter, so I decided to give them a try.

I love these books! I can't say enough about them. There are several characters, and each story follows the life of one of the quilters. There is also alot of knowledge to be gleaned from the stories about quilting itself, and I am always willing to learn something new, even if I never try my hand at it.

Some of the books are written like historical fiction, dating back to the 1800's, when the family members emigrate to the US, and build a home and a new life full of promise. Other stories in the books descibe modern day life stories, full of modern day issues, like marriage & divorce and family issues.

Having read almost all of the books in the series, I eagerly await new ones in the future, and similar stories from other authors.

Read any good books lately? Do you have a book or author suggestion for me?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Frugal Gifts - Why?

As time inches closer to the upcoming holidays, I started thinking about frugal gifts. Why do we want to give them? To whom do we give them? Where and when should we give them? How do we approach giving them? Over the month of November, I plan to write a series of posts giving my thoughts and ideas on the subject, as wells as ideas for frugal gifts to give.

Something about the crowds in stores over the holidays gives me the creeps. I hate trying to go out to buy milk, bread and toilet paper in those crowds, let alone trying to hunt down a reasonably priced gift for my kid. Wal-mart becomes a nightmare, with no cart to be had at the storefront, and about 7000 people all shopping at once. I've gotten hit with a cart, pushed out of the way of a display, had my foot stepped on, and been on the business end of someone's elbow far too may times. It is definately not a nice experience. This alone would be a good enough reason to make homemade gifts for Christmas, I think.

But there are some many other good reasons to make gifts yourself.
You can choose reusable containers for packaging.
You can use alternative or recycled papers for wrapping gifts.
You will feel a sense of pride at having made something with your own two hands.
You can spend less money, if you're diligent.
You can make one of a kind items for that hard to buy for person.
You can be almost certain that the recipient didn't get the same thing from another family member.
Items can be reused and repurposed, therefore giving our earth a bit of a break.
Food type gifts are often of better quality, because they have real ingredients that you can pronounce.
You can reduce your overall holiday budget!

Start now with thinking about the benefits of frugal gift giving. Consider what you may be able to make. If you have no idea where to start, try googling 'easy homemade christmas gifts' and start cruising the enormous amount of information on the web.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting tired of paying down your debt?

When you start out on your journey to become debt-free, you have alot of enthusiasm and focus. You're determined. You know you have what it takes to succeed. But after awhile, it seems like you're depriving yourself. You're not having fun anymore. You may have even gone out and spent again on your credit card. Here are a few ideas that may help you.

The Paper chain: Make a paper chain of your debt, eack link representing $100 of your debt. As you pay it off, cut off a link for every $100 paid off. This provides you with a visual aid to help you see your debt getting smaller.

A Bar Graph: Make a graph that represents your debt. As you pay it off, colour in the areas so that you can see you are making progress.

Calculate how much your debt costs you each month: Sit down and figure out what your debt is really costing you in interest for 12 months. If that number doesn't spur you into action, figure it out in terms of a daily amount or over the length of time it will take you to pay off the debt. This should light a fire under you to get that sucker paid down faster.

Give yourself a monthly challenge to speed up the repayments: Challenge yourself and your family, to do something different for one month and apply the money to debt instead. You could save all your loose change in a jar, roll it, and apply it directly toward debt. You could try not eating out for a month, sell some stuff, or keeping all your $5 bills.

Some people get the wonter blues. I tend to get the budget blues. I make sure to include some fun stuff in my budget, so that there is some balance. We like to see different things, do different things. This month, we're going to see the Titanic Artifacts Exhibit at a museum in Kitchner. I'm excited to see the things that were underwater for so many years after the Titanic sank.

Try to remember that there needs to be balance in your budget. Have a little fun while you're paying down your debts, or you will risk running up more.

Happy thursday!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What would you do with a lottery windfall?

You bought the $2 ticket out of your fun money. You opened the newspaper one morning later and found that all 6 or 7 numbers matched. The grand prize is $1 million dollars. What would you do? Ok, what would you do after the screaming, crying and doing the happy dance? What would you do with the money?

B and I talk alot about this. It's our way of dreaming together, and I glean a ton of information about how he thinks about money from these conversations. We talk about what we would buy, who we would give to, and things we wouls like that money to do for us. It's a subtler way of defining goals sometimes.

After picking up the enormous over-sized novelty cheque, and having our picture taken about a gajillion times, we'd head to the bank to park it. We would not spend any of it for exactly 30 days, so it could earn interest while we developed our exact plan. The plan, would be written down, and we would both be assigned tasks from the list in order to deal with the money.

What to do with all that money? Mostly, we'd invest. Not just in our own RRSPs and the kids RESPs that would get maxed out, but we would invest in other ways too. We would purchase a home. Nothing extravagant, but one that suits our needs, with 3 bedrooms, a home office space, a lovely kitchen, and a heated 2 car garage. We would help to pay down (or off, depending on the amount) the home of a couple with whom we are extremely close to. We would also set up something of a trust for our older daughter, to help her pay her expenses while she completes her education, which would be our stipulation in order to receive a lump sum. We'd give a set amount to B's mom, who has been there for us through thick & thin, helping us in many, many ways. However, there would be many other relatives who would receive no financial help from us at all. I'm sure that will set off a bunch of stormy arguments, but we have already decided that certain folks will get no more help from us, even if we never win a lottery.

We would like to travel, so I'm certain some will be set aside just for this purpose. We would give some to charity, although we haven't quite decided on which ones. Also, my small home-based business will get a boost from our windfall. There is equipment that needs to be replaced, and of course all our debts will get paid in FULL!

All these things would improve our quality of life, as well as those of others we know and love. We would invest in our future, the future for our family, and in the good relationships we already have.

How about you? What would you do with a $1 million dollar windfall?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November Monthly Challenge

Last month, I didn't do as well as I would have liked on my goals for the month. I wanted to fully fund our Xmas Fund, set aside some money for the baby shower, and get a few things done that I have been putting off.

With our unexpected financial surprises last month, savings sort of got put on the back burner. I only added $50 to the Xmas Fund, spent money on decorations for the baby shower, only made 1 xmas gift instead of 12, and have yet to open the new account. Boo to me for not doing enough!

Considering we had over $6000 of annual bills to pay along with our regular bills, and the fact that my income for the month was less than $500, I have to give us an A+ for October. Yes, we dipped into savings to make sure things were taken care of. But isn't that what savings are for? To help pay the the bills so that you don't use credit? I think so. If we had used our vacation money to pay our insurance bills, it's still better than taking a vacation and putting our insurances on a credit card that will take us years to pay off.

November goals:

-fully fund Xmas Fund-$269.85
-baby shower money-$500.00
-make 12 xmas gifts
-open savings accounts for kids
-payment plan for lawyer
-Wardrobe month; go through clothing for each person in house and determine what stays, what goes & what's needed still
-Xmas gifts in a jar - these were quite popular last year with our crowd, so I will make more this year, including some new recipes.

This past weekend was crazy with a Hallowe'en party we attended, moving our DD1 into her new apartment and cleaning out the old apartment, trick-or-treating, and driving all over the city several times. B, DD1, and the b/f all had to work Monday, so we tried to get the moving all finished as early on Sunday as possible. It was hectic, but we got it done.

Do you set monthly goals for yourself? Do you write them down somewhere so that you see them everyday? What helps you to accomplish those goals? Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Monday, November 1, 2010

End of October Report

Here are our October numbers:

Planned spending - down $16.15
Xmas Fund - added $94.15
Emergency fund - down$207.00
RRSP - added $10
General Savings - added $35.00
Can. Saving Bond - added $280.00

$160 paid to Personal Loan
$200 paid to CC with 28% int. rate
$183.87 paid to CC with 0% int. rate
$255.05 paid to Auto Loan
$22.50 paid to HBC card with 28.8% int. rate

We put a total of $419.15 into our various saving pots this month.
We paid a total of $821.42 toward our debt this month.

October was a crazy month for us financially. Due to some poor planning on my part, our yearly insurance policies came due for payment, and we had to scramble to come up with the money to pay them. I had forgotten to add them to the budget. Silly me. So in additon to our regular monthly bills, we had to come up with an additional $6128.20. My recurring monthly goal of adding no more debt was left behind this month also. For the first time since becoming self-employed, I faced a large Income tax bill this year. So our debt grew by about $3600 this month alone! Yuck!!