Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Yes I'm still here ... if anyone out there noticed I was gone.  Been a bit busy dealing with reno's, kids with the scoots, and feeling like barfing myself 24/7.

I heard a saying the other day that has totally gotten stuck in my brain.

"We judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions." 

Whoa, right?  Do you not TOTALLY do this?  How many times have you said, during/after a fight "Well I didn't mean to hurt you."  But you did hurt them.  With your actions.  Or switch it around - somebody hurt you, and you probably assume it was all part of some diabolical, totally pre-meditated plan to wound you.  Not that maybe they didn't mean to, or intend to.

So naturally I tried to think of how this could relate to money, and being smarter with it.  We might have the best of intentions with our money, but either life, ignorance, lack of self discipline, etc. interfere and we don't stick to our intended course.  Then we go to apply for a mortgage, loan, credit card and can't get it because our 'actions' affected our credit rating negatively, so we're judged by those actions and our dream of owning a new house/car/etc. have to get put on hold for a bit longer.

I guess you can apply this to any situation in life, and it makes you (or me) stop and think about everything lately.  I'm not so quick to get mad at people that do something that offends me, because in all likelihood it wasn't their intention. 

And I find myself slowing down and thinking twice about how my actions might be perceived by others, despite what I think they're meant to look like or what my intentions are.  I try to "start as I mean to go on" (another quote I love) and act in a way that would bring good judgement towards me.  (did that even make sense?)

Anyways, I'm going to try and judge others less by their actions and try to show a little more compassion and try to imagine what their intentions are.  And if I'm not sure, maybe I'll just ask.

Happy Tuesday.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Kids, Money, & Toads

I think the thing that will cause me more stress and worry than just about anything, is whether or not I'm raising good kids.  Or rather, whether I'm raising good adults.  I'm sure most parents out there can relate to that worry.

I constantly question if I'm doing the right thing by my boys.  Am I tough enough on them?  Am I too tough on them?  Am I doing enough for them?  Am I doing TOO much for them?

So many questions.

Fortunately, I'm blessed to have really good boys. I mean we still have our challenging days, but when I compare my home to some of the problems that I know other parents are facing I know we're doing alright. 

I want to raise boys that respect themselves, respect others, respect women, and who are capable, functioning adults who don't need a girlfriend to take care of them.  My oldest cleans, is learning to cook, can do his own laundry, and has regular chores to contribute to the house.  So far so good.  When he whines about it, I just tell him that chicks dig guys who cook & clean.  That seems to be enough for now.

I also want to raise my boys to be financially responsible.  I was taught little to nothing about how to manage my money as a kid.  I had a piggy bank and savings account, but I was never taught actual lessons about it.  Money was something my step-dad refused to discuss with, or around me.  He felt it was none of my business to know how our household ran, how much things cost, or why it was important to save.  He just though grounding me for asking my mom to buy me new shoes was a lesson in itself.  He was (and still is) a real asshole.  

That's why I prefer to think back and draw on the first 11 years of my life (before Mom married the Toad) when it was just the 2 of us, for my financial example.  She worked 2, sometimes 3 jobs, to support us.  We never lived in fancy places, but she did things on her own to make places homey.  She baked her own bread, sewed my clothes, and learned how to do most things herself so she didn't have to pay anyone unless absolutely necessary.  The woman was MacGuyver.  She could change a tire, the oil in the car, fix a leaky roof, wire a lightswitch, and bake a kick ass German Chocolate Cake ... in an afternoon.  Seriously, I kid you not.

But back to my kids, I found a really great article from Psychology Today that talks about raising kids that are fiscally responsible, instead of spoiled assholes.  You can read it for yourself here and tell me what you think.

What kinds of things are you doing to teach your kids about financial responsibility?  I'm enjoying learning right along with my boy.  He gets an allowance, and has to save some, etc. etc.  I picked up some great tips from Gail Vaz-Oxlade's blog about Money Smart Kids.  We're tweaking things as we go, finding what works.  He's definitely learning that money does not grow on trees.  "But mom ... wouldn't that be so so cool if it did?!"

Yes dear ... I'm still hoping I find a money tree one day.  But for now I'll continue to budget a teeny bit for lottery tickets.  *wink wink*

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Popcorn and The Golden Girls ...

My life's pretty busy, and I'll be the first to admit that quite often it's because I take on more than I should.  My Grandpa nicknamed me "hummingbird" because I never stop moving, and it's true - I don't.  Or not very often anyways, but I am working on it.

I had a little "hey shut up and pay attention" moment yesterday when my 11 year old came home from a sleepover.  He spends half his time with me, and half with his dad (we've been separated for 6 years) and so when things get busy we don't often get to spend 1-on-1 time together.  It just so happened that his baby brother was to go to Nana's for a play date with their little cousins, and I was heading to the grocery store. 

I was a little bit taken aback when he sounded so excited to come with me, and didn't want to just stay home to catch up on COD playtime.  I was even a teeny bit suspicious, wondering what his 11 year old angle might be, but when he said "I just wanna hang out with you" I quickly put that thought away and just went with it. (bad Mommy)

So we dropped the short "noise covered with dirt" off at Nana's and proceeded to the grocery store.  He Heeley'd the cart around as I shopped, and I only had to yell at him once for ripping past the meat section doing about 45 km/h.  When we got home he helped me unload the groceries, went and finished up his chores while I got dinner started, and as soon as the chili was ready to sit and simmer for a while, he had the popcorn maker out and we proceeded to make a double batch of hot air popcorn.

He loves my popcorn because I put about a half a cup of melted butter on it.  "I love that you love butter Mom ..."  (my son is very affectionate and vocal, I got about 8 "I love you's" and at least 4 "you're the best mom EVER's " out of him that day)

Best part of the whole day?  We plop down on the couch to chill out before I go pick up his little brother, and he asks if we can watch Golden Girls.  "Man I love that show, those ladies are so funny."  Seriously!  So we found 2 back-to-back episodes on DejaView and ate a giant butter coated bowl of popcorn and laughed for an hour until I had to go.  He thanked me ... THANKED me for hanging out.  Ouch.

It was a perfect and awesome way to end a busy afternoon, and it just reminded me that sometimes I just need to stop and chill and just BE with my kids.  It's OK if the laundry sits in the machine for an hour or two, or if the vacuuming doesn't get done right away.  Some things are more important ... WAY more important.

Besides, even hummingbirds must rest sometimes .... right?

Happy Sunday.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Pantry Purge ... A Success!

So a few weeks back I decided it was time to go through the meat in my freezer before it was burnt, and the dry stuff in my pantry.  I committed to only shopping for dairy and produce for as long as I could, but wanted to make it at least a week.

Well I made it through more than 2 weeks!  And we didn't even die.  My oldest was a bit perturbed that we didn't have more snacks in the house, but he got over it when he rediscovered homemade milkshakes (milk, sugar, frozen fruit), and popcorn made with the hot air popper.

Meal planning played a big part, but before I could do that I had to know what I had so I took a bit of an inventory.  Here's what got me through 2.5 weeks:

  • 1 frozen chicken
  • 6 lbs ground beef
  • quinoa
  • rice
  • frozen mixed veggies
  • frozen berries
  • frozen leftover soup
  • broth
  • canned goods (beans, soups, olives)
  • potatoes & onions
That's pretty much it!  It was fun getting creative.  We put some spins on old classics like Shepherd's Pie, and made a roasted chicken stretch from one dinner into over 3 days of meals like sandwiches, quesadillas and salads.  I always marvelled at my mother's ability to make a wicked meal out of 3 things that were just kicking around the house, so it felt good to know I'm learning to do the same.

All in all, I figure I saved over $300 dollars over the 2.5 weeks as I only bought dairy and fresh produce instead of the usual $100-$150/week I would have spent on food.  I think I'll try doing it again, maybe on a smaller scale - like a week every once in a while, just 'cause.

What kind of creative creations have you thrown together when a trip to grocery store just wasn't happening?   I'd love to hear how you make your grocery dollars stretch!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

I don't really know the origin of Valentine's Day ... I'm sure it's something awful and pagan, but I do know what it means to me.

Valentines Day means I get to eat chocolate with evaporating calories, and drink wine with my fellow camp-widow friend why we have our first "Lonely Hearts" dinner with the kids and talk about the to-do lists we're compiling for our husbands when they return from working out of town. 

Good times!  Enjoy your day people.  Say Good Morning to a stranger, just because, and practice a random act of kindness.

And try not to blow a wad on roses that were 1/4 the price yesterday and will be again tomorrow.

Love ya,

Monday, 13 February 2012

Well Isn't That Clever...

I'm always looking for ways to do things better, I'm kind of an efficiency dork.  I love it when somebody says "what about this way" and it's better!  So I thought I'd share some of the things I've picked up lately:

  1. Making Mashed Potatoes quicker (without buying those nasty bagged ones) :  Boil a kettle while you're chopping the potatoes, and fill the pot of potatoes with the boiling water and you will shave 10 minutes off your mashed potato time.  That's a lot for a busy mom that still wants to make 'from scratch' dinners for her family!  Credit: Jamie Oliver
  2. Parchment paper: I use that shit for EVERYTHING.  I never have to wash a cookie sheet, whether I've roasted potatoes, veggies, cooked bacon - it's awesome. Credit: Aunty Cathy  
  3. Speaking of bacon-line a cookie sheet with parchment, throw your strips on, and put your oven on 400.  Voila! Bacon in 10 minutes.  Let the parchment cool, and crunch it up and throw it in the compost/trash/whatever you do with your food scraps.  Wicked fast, perfect bacon strips with no mess.  Credit:  Marc & Andrea
  4. Got pets?  Invest in a rubber broom.  FlyLady has one here that is super awesome.  It doesn't make the hair fly around, but gathers it all up into a nice pile so you can just suck it up quick with a vacuum.  I love my dogs, but I hate hate hate all the hair.  This helps keep the floors decent without having to lug the big rig Dyson out twice a day.  Credit: Well duh, FlyLady!
  5. Getting an overwhelming housework/organizing job started:  If you're anything like me, every once in a while the house gets away from you and you just don't know where to start, so you don't.  I get a teensy bit overcome with anxiety when I feel overwhelmed by my house, but once again - FlyLady to the rescue.  Her lists and tricks and common-sense approach to tackling big messes little bits at a time really help take the anxiety of of a very messy house.  Even if your house isn't that messy, there's still lots of useful stuff on her site.  I'm a fan, in case you didn't know.
Aren't those clever ideas?  Wish I could take credit for them, but the people I know who read this blog know that they gave me the ideas and that would probably piss them off and make me look like an ass, so I will give credit where credit is due.

Sweet dreams,
Tara :-)

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Budgeting ... Let's Continue

OK so you've figured out your income, and all your bills that have to be paid.  Great. So what's next?

If you're coming up short, have another look at your numbers.  Can you tweak anything right off the start?  I budget $200/week for food for our family of 4, $20 for personal care stuff, $30 for entertainment, $40 for "other" (which for us is dog food and diapers), and finally $10 for the kid's allowances.  That works for us and after a few trials and errors I finally figured it out. 

Cash is the only way to go.  I don't know about you, but I'm a busy momma.  Working full time, 2 boys, 2 dogs, and a husband who works away for most of the month.  So I use cash because I just don't have time to write everything down and track statements and bank accounts every time I shop.  Binders work for some people, just not for me.  I keep receipts where the  cash is, and I see the cash going down so I know when it's gone it's gone.  AND I know that what is in my account is staying there - no worrying about accidentally overspending with my debit card and not having enough to cover payments.

Equal billing:  Change your hydro and gas to equal billing and save yourself the stress of coming up with double or triple your regular bill in the winter months.  You can budget knowing exactly what your monthly bill will be every month.  Definite headache avoidance tactic.

When you find a budget that works for you, then stick with it!  But review it anytime there are changes in your pay situation, or an opportunity to save money somewhere.

Speaking of which - don't forget to save.  Whatever you can, and do it automatically, somewhere out of sight.  I use my ING account, then it leaves my chequing account and I don't even miss it.

Talk to your financial services rep about all of the different savings vehicles for household, retirement, and otherwise.  They're the experts and can help you figure out what's best for your situation.

Next time - paying off your debt - what's the best way to do it?

I hope this has helped a bit!  Busy busy week, back to the housework!

Peace out,

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Budgeting ... where to begin?

There are TONS of blogs and websites dedicated to teaching you how to manage your money better.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming trying to navigate them, and figure out which way is the best way.

The best way to budget is the way that works for you, and that is (relatively) painless for you to stick with.  And it all depends on your situation and goals.  If you're trying to get rid of a chunk of debt, you'll probably have to suck it up and be really strict for a while.  If you're just trying to be more organized and maybe save a bit more, then you will approach the numbers a bit differently.

Here's what I have found works for me, I hope you find it useful too:

  1. Know where your money is, and where it goes/needs to go: You can't budget if you don't know exactly how much money you have coming in and how much needs to go out.  Lots of people say you need to track your expenses for a few months before you budget, but I disagree.  I feel it's better to jump in where you're at, start as you mean to go on, and tweak things along the way if it doesn't work right from the start.  So, get your bank statement, your pay stubbs, your utilities & other bill copies, and your debt payments.
  2. Fixed vs. Variable:  Fixed expenses are the ones that HAVE to have a certain amount paid each month.  Mortgage, loans, utilities, etc ... you get the picture.  Put those in a pile or write them down on a piece of paper or in a spreadsheet.  Variable, well that's other stuff like food, clothing, personal care, entertainment, etc. 
  3. Total up what your income is, and total up what your expenses are.  Got a positive number after that?  Right on, you're off to a good start.  Negative?  Well, we will fix that soon enough.

That's a good enough start for now ... I'll continue this later.  :)  You're doing great so far!


Monday, 6 February 2012

Sometimes You Just Gotta Start Over ... Again.

So you're all jazzed because you've found a budget that works.  You're saving money, you're paying your bills on time, you're making your debt go away faster than ever  before.  You have totally got this thing NAILED.  Feels good right?  Totally.

Then your sister/inlaws/bff/etc show up for an unexpected visit and you want to celebrate, let's go out for dinner!  You wanna treat them so you pay.  Then it's a trip to the spa, shopping & lunch with the girls, and what the hell ... you have EARNED those new boots.

Before you know it you are totally off your clever little wagon and feeling the shits because you've got a balance on your card, no cash left, and the fridge looks like it did when you were 20 and in your first place. (mustard with that pickle?)

It's OK.  It's going to happen.  We all fall off our plans/resolutions/diets/exercise regimes - we're human!  The important thing to remember is that failure is temporary.  Let's just not even call it failure ... we'll call it a 'slip'.  Slips happen.  It's what you do after your slip that determines if you've got what it takes to live smartly when it comes to finances.

You pick up where you left off before the unexpected threw you for a loop.  You go grocery shopping and brown bag those lunches, maybe you save on gas & parking and take the bus for a few days.  You dig through the freezer, cupboards, and pantry and get creative and see how much you can cook without a big trip to the store. 

Most of all you don't beat yourself up too bad.  Think about what happened and try to figure out where things went sideways.  Do you need to tweak your budget a bit?  Maybe you should set aside $5 or $10 a payday to a 'spa fund' so that when your best buds roll into town you've got some cake to spend on yourself.

My friend calls V. New Years Eve "The Big Mulligan".  She says it's time to start over, no epic fails (yet), clean slate.  I love fresh starts, but New Years is only once a year.  So I take Monday's as my "Mini Mulligans" and see if I can make each week better than the last.  Maybe if you're working on a really aggressive budget and debt-repayment plan you have to take it day by day.  That's fine too.

Find what works for YOU ... and your chances of sticking to it will be even greater.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Country Music ... It Teaches You Things ...

OK don't laugh, but there's this country song by this guy that talks about how he hears a news report about people losing everything in a tornado, and how it makes him reflect on his life and how he values what he has.  I think it's Jason McCoy, "Everything".

Well that song, literally EVERY time I hear it, makes me reflect on he things I have and how I feel about them. 

"what if the things we had today were taken away.  our little 3 bedroom house, our old Chevrolet" and on it goes to say that if he lost everything ... INCLUDING his big screen TV, he'd still have everything as long as he had his family.

It does the obvious to me ... it makes me think that if I ever went through a natural disaster, all I'd care about was my family being safe and with me. 

But it also makes me think about 2 other things:

First of all - it makes me want to make sure I'm prepared for a disaster.  I mean water, canned food, diapers, and somewhere to sleep.  Be it a tent, trailer, car, I don't care.  I just want my emergency kit stocked ... like NOW.

The second thing it makes me think of is this - yes of course I don't care if my TV survives, or my car, or my house, or my toys.  But if I lost all of those things and they were all financed - I'D STILL OWE THE MONEY ON THEM.  How's that for a big piece of "shitty pie" with your "natural disaster" dinner?

People ... we need to stop financing our pathetic 'wants' and start being happy with just having our needs met.  If you want special things - by all means fly at 'er - but let's do it smart-like shall we?  Because saving cash and paying outright for a toy and insuring it is one thing.  But let me tell you this, Mastercard and CitiFinancial don't give a shit if you just lost your world in an earthquake/tornado/tsunami/housefire ... they are going to want their money right Chicken Louis.  (that means fast like)  How much would that SUCK to have to worry about, on top of having to find a place to sleep, food to eat, and diapers to put on your bebe's until stuff gets put right again?!

Not to be all alarmish and whatnot, but does it not beg some consideration?  I think so.  And not just 'cuz some country song pulled at my heart strings, but because I love my family and if push came to shove/push/punch/dig ... I'd want no more than the absolute necessary worries to worry about, and not a bunch of payments for stuff that just got destroyed.

We can only say "wow that sucks, but that won't happen here" for so long, it's time to get your shit in order and be prepared for come-what-may.  You'll be so proud to have it to draw on when you have to, and you'll be your own little family's hero for having taken care of it.

Go to your local city's website for Emergency Preparedness guidelines.  My city has a great "32 Weeks to Being Emergency Prepared" at www.nanaimo.ca .  I know you can make it happen.

Love ya,

Friday, 3 February 2012

What if what we had was enough.

Technically, I spent half my childhood poor, I remember my mom working 2, sometimes 3 jobs to avoid welfare.  She clipped coupons, washed and reused tinfoil and plastic bags, and baked her own bread.  But, we always had a place to live with homemade curtains on the windows. Even if we did move every 6 months or so. Sometimes we shared the house with silverfish, and the odd shrew ... but I never knew I was going without anything.  We had food, I had clothes, and we usually had a car.  We had our ups and downs, but we laughed a lot. And that was enough.

Many times I've found myself feeling panicked that we don't have a 4th bedroom, and if I were to have another child 2 might have to share, or that my car is *gasp* almost 10 years old.  We really should have a flat screen in the bedroom, and maybe the kids should have one too. You know, to save space. 


Then I stop and give myself a little smack and realize that we...have...enough.  I have a husband that loves me, 2 amazing kids, a family - both blood and in-law - that I would fall on a sword for, and friends that make me laugh and let me cry when I need to.  I have a house.  It's a bit small, but so is my mortgage.  My car, well it's small too but it runs good and gets me where I need to go.

I want to grow old and be happy.  I don't want to be worried about money when I'm old.  I don't need to be rich.  I want to be smart and prepare for the day when I no longer want to work.  I know I'm on the right path, but I still find myself needing to check in every once in a while when I get caught up in the babble and spit about buying a bigger house, TV, iPad, iPhone ... none of that stuff matters.  If I want to save up the cash and splurge once in a while, that's fine but I've been under debt's thumb before, and I refuse to be again.  I plan on enjoying my life, now and when I'm ready to retire. 

I know it can be done, I just need to keep on the right track.  And know that what I have now is enough.

What I Won't Scrimp On

I love to save money.  I'll budget, meal plan, clip coupons, and scope flyers for the best prices.  I'll go thrift store shopping (one of my favourites), drive an old car until I just can't drive it no more.

BUT ... there are some things I just have to buy the way they are.  Life, in my opinion, is too short to go without the following:

  1. Good coffee:  I'm not talking about daily Venti's and the "latte factor" that would give David Bach a rash.  Just really good beans that I like to grind and brew at home for my early morning cup.  I love my Salt Spring Island organic, shade grown, fairly traded beans and I don't care that they cost $17/2lbs at Costco.  Hey it beats the $13/lb+ at the grocery store!
  2. Well made clothes:  Sorry Suzy Shier.  You did the trick back in the day when I was a struggling, bar hopping, 20 year old receptionist.  15 years later though, I actually care about looking professional for my job and that means well made, lined, dry cleanable clothes that fit my curvy 35 year old body properly, and don't pill after one wash.
  3. Good Shampoo:  I've tried the Pantenes, the Herbal Essences, and the Salon Selectives.  Unfortunately my late mother's legacy (may she rest in peace) was to leave me with her incredibly fine, flat hair. Thanks Mom. So, if it means I have to return bottles to pay for it, I NEED my Bumble & Bumble thickening shampoo & conditioner and my Kerastase Cement Thermique.  I refuse to go through the day looking like a baby bird trying to grow it's feathers out.
  4. Free Range Meat:  I live in a house full of carnivorous boys.  I love my boys and I have watched Food Inc. and even though I know Canada isn't quite as bad as our southern neighbours when it comes to meat and farming practices, I still insist that we buy our meat from the local butcher or local farmers.  I want to know where it's coming from, and what's in it.  A 9lb chicken that was pumped full of growth hormones to get it to market faster?  No thanks.  The 9 lb chicken my cousins grow on their free range Utopian farm at the base of Mt. Sicker?  Yes please, bok bok.
  5. Good Quality Cookware:  Any mom out there knows how much time we put in cooking and preparing food for family and friends.  I splurged a few years ago and bought a commercial set of pots & pans.  It damn near gave me a jammer to spend the $350 on them, even though it was a great deal as the set was regular $850!  But once I cooked in them I never looked back.  I love to cook and experiment and feed people, and wow do good pots ever make a difference!  The other benefit?  I'll likely never have to replace them as long as I live. 
I'm sure if you asked my husband, he'd say there are lots of other things I don't scrimp on but these are the main ones I can think of right now. 

What kinds of things are you not ashamed to spend good money on?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

OK ... so I decided to try pantry shopping for a while and try to not buy any groceries other than fresh produce and dairy. So I'm on week 2. It's going pretty good. We've had to get creative for some dinners, but I haven't had any complaints yet! Even my 2 year old who eats like a bird has even eaten the chili AND the casserole.

Gotta love a good casserole.

I've saved quite a bit on what I would normally spend each week, and I'm finally getting through the lovely free-range beef and chicken in my deep freeze before it gets freezer burnt. I think I've got another 10 days of meals in this house. OK maybe 5 ... I'm not my mother. I swear that woman could feed an army on a can of tomato soup, a couple cheese slices, and some noodles. Mmmm .... cheese spaghetti. If we were REALLY lucky she'd throw in a few sausages. Being broke really brought out the creative side of her.

Much like the garbage bag ponchos I'd have to wear as a kid when it rained, if a new raincoat wasn't in the budget. Wanna go fly a kite? Here's some yarn and a plastic shopping bag. Wanna go fishing for bullheads? Take the yarn from your kite, and this here safety pin. And don't even THINK about touching the cheese for bait ... that shit is expensive you know!

I loved the look on a co worker's face when I told those stories in the lunch room the other day and she realized I wasn't kidding. I loved my childhood, I just wish it didn't take me until I was almost 30 to remember all the awesome lessons my mom taught me about being thrifty, how to cook from what you have, and save money. Oh well, better late than never!

Happy Pantry Shopping. :)