Sunday, 21 May 2017

Try To Make It Fun

Only $45.65 CAD at Nordstrom

Do you find it a pain to be frugal?   . . .

That's the wrong approach.   You need to adjust your attitude.   When you have a goal in mind that is important to you, focus on that.   Do you want to buy a house?   Have a baby?   Take early retirement?   Travel around the world for a year?     These are big picture goals that will change your life and you have decided that will be in the best possible way.   Having longer lashes just isn't the same.

But don't give up on beauty entirely, if long lashes are in your definition of that.   There's a whole world of choice out there.

$4.96 CAD at

The first mascara is approximately ten times more expensive you will note.   Giving credit to The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn where I first read the idea, you should ask yourself if this product is ten times better.   That is a difficult hurdle to overcome.   Some might consider the product superior ( although the Yves Saint Laurent brand may influence you in that decision).  Look at that shiny gold colour.   I would be curious to know if a chemical analysis showed the ingredients making up the mascaras are significantly different.

Look on it as re-directing your money.   You are not cheap, you are not depriving yourself of something, you are channelling your money to what is a significant goal.   

I read in an interview with the venerable Mrs. Dacyczyn that she considered the internet to be the single greatest new aid to frugality.   I agree.   You can check prices, shop around and generally occupy yourself very inexpensively in a myriad of ways.   Look on it as a treasure hunt.   They were always fun, weren't they?

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Is Insurance to Reassure You?


One of the first things a professor/instructor in Insurance Law said, and incidentally the only thing I remember from that course,  was "The first rule of insurance companies is 'Don't Pay!'"  Litigation would arise from this refusal in a small number of cases, bearing in mind that the cost of litigation would be more than most household and even travel claims, saving the most extreme.  I suppose that's why I've always been wary of insurance policies.

You have to have fire insurance on your home.   Probably your mortgage company requires it.   House fires in owner occupied homes are not very common but just in case . . .    You couldn't sleep at night without it.    What about a robbery claim?    Those are more common.   A young person broke in and stole our stereo and video recorder many years ago.   If you ever make a claim be prepared to have your premium go up the following year and not just on that property but any other real estate (like an investment condominium) that you happen to own.   Don't forget you'll need to pay the deductible ($500 to $1000) first.   Before long you've paid for your replacement item yourself.     

Some people take out disability insurance.   It seems you are more likely to become disabled, than die, at least in the short term.   But what is disabled?    If if you became a quadriplegic, unable to use all four of your limbs, your insurer might think that you might be able to hold a pencil between your teeth and tap out letters on a keyboard with the eraser end.    A little research on-line turns up a lot of sad stories.  Some are satisfied with what the insurance company has provided.   It can make you feel that paying a monthly disability premium was a little like buying a slew of lottery tickets every month.   You hope, you hope.  

Sunday, 7 May 2017

No Shopping?

Garth Williams (illustrator)

Are you one of the millions of people who has read the Little House in the Prairie series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder?   Many people, myself included, have read and re-read the books and read them to our children.    Down to earth tales of family life in pioneer America and guess what?   No shopping.  (almost).   Somehow this family lived their life, their adventures, their struggles with little money.   They would be considered poor today, no doubt, but they didn't think of themselves in that way.   Their neighbours were all in similar situations.    But the love they had for each other, the hard work they engaged in, the ingenuity and inventiveness shines through every book.

I suspect the foregoing is one of the reasons these books have endured.   We want some of that in our lives.   Can we replicate it in any form?

The Ingalls children all had chores which they were expected to do without complaining.   Pioneer life was labour intensive and everyone had to pitch in to make it work.   Laura even took on work that was not considered appropriate for girls or women--heavy farm work pitching hay--because she was needed.    They were able to produce much of what they used.   Pa Ingalls hauled logs manually using his horses to build their home, Ma Ingalls gathered river side straw to make summer hats -- you get the picture.  These skills must have been passed on to them by older relatives.  

In Little Town on the Prairie the Saturday evening socials held in the town were free entertainment for all.   Talent shows of a sort and entertainment by town residents ending with a pot luck provided by the town ladies.   Reading that chapter made everything sound heartwarming, even hilarious.   Some family reunions are a little like that, as long as they're not held in a hotel.

Yes, the Ingalls did go shopping, maybe twice a year.   They needed fabric to replenish their sparse wardrobe occasionally or metal teeth for the farm harvester but it was a rare occasion and purchases were carefully considered.

If Little House in the Prairie wasn't part of your childhood reading, you must have read Nancy Drew Mysteries  or the Hardy Boys.    Lots of adventures and not much shopping.  

We like to keep young people safe nowadays so there aren't many adventures.   Lots of shopping and screen time though.  It gets to be a habit.

Garth Williams, Illustrator

Sunday, 30 April 2017

How Far Will You Go


I like to read blogs.   I have a fairly wide range of interests - besides saving money - and like to discover what others have to say.    There's always more to find out.   For example, did you  know that the vegetable products you buy to eat can also provide seedlings that will replicate themselves ad infinitum.  Check out The Economic Gardener from Mr. Tako Escapes website.  Now I'm regretting the garden seeds I optimistically bought a month ago.   The last ones never even germinated!

The Renaissance Housewife harvests and processes her own herbs to make herbal tea and generates enormous savings.   (You'll have to scroll through the entries about picking up and processing roadkill for her freezer.).   One of the things I like about her blog is that while she is frugal almost beyond belief (and benefits from the fact that shopping in the U.S. seems about 80% cheaper than shopping in Canada) she and her husband  spend money eating out in restaurants, taking cruises and travelling to tropical locations.   It's all about choice.   (I thought at first she went about her daily activities in a long gown and headpieces as befitting the sixteenth century but no.)


Open yourself up to different choices!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Managing Post-Secondary Education


There was a time when going to university didn't involve going into debt, or at least not the kind that would take years to pay off.    At some point, post-secondary education ceased to be an extension of the public school system and became a kind of corporate venture.   Bean counters moved in.    Courses and programs were offered even though few or no positions were available for graduates yet at the same time popular wisdom seemed to be that a degree or two was necessary for career advancement.   Parents, with all good intentions, advised their children to follow the pattern that had worked for them.   Trade school was often seen as the last resort for students who couldn't cut the academic courses.  

University education also has a value that has nothing to do with job prospects but that is not as easily measured and valuated.    If university education is your choice, know that there is a level of maturity required to get a degree without incurring horrendous debt, and it is not possessed by most eighteen year olds.

Some big picture advice involves living at home as long as possible, hopefully with supportive parents.    Once you leave home, everything costs.   Adding a spouse and children places you on a trajectory where stepping off to continue/pursue post-secondary education involves difficult choices.  Canvas your friends and acquaintances.   Returning to university with a spouse and children involves a considerable change in lifestyle as well as helpful parents and in-laws.

Find a job that makes accommodations for students with flexible hours and an understanding boss.   Work one day a week at your busiest times and up the hours on holidays but be reliable and hardworking on the job.   It's only fair.


Here are some smaller tips, direct from a university student with no debt:

- don't buy textbooks until you are sure you actually need them
- try to share textbooks with reliable students.  Make a schedule to exchange
- buying your textbooks used and on-line is usually cheaper or even better see if they are available from the institution's library.   Even if they are only available  on reserve for two hours, work with that
- Culinary programs often sell students' products cheap 
- farmers' markets may set up shop on campus but don't get caught up buying a lot of logo'd products at the campus shop
- hang out with frugal students; go to fun pot luck type of events with your cohorts
- College departments may arrange social events that are slightly relevant. eg.  Archaeology department may screen Indiana Jones movies
- use campus computers for free.  Printer costs are usually minimal.   Wifi is free on campus;  get the code if one is required
- Don't live on campus;  it's usually not a good idea financially or academically
- Bring your own water bottle; many campuses have refilling stations conveniently located
- If you buy coffee on campus bring your own container.   There's usually a discount.
- Campus gym is usually available for free at certain times
- You may be required to pay for a transit pass; use it if it is feasible.  Or carpool
- Most campuses now require that you have extended health care or purchase theirs.   This would be the time to arrange a dental or vision check-up

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Travel, As You Like It

Skellig Michael

I love to travel and have enjoyed doing so a considerable number of  times.   Not as many as perpetual travellers, otherwise known as Global Nomads.  Nor even as much as those who travel half the year or some similar ambitious percentage of their time.  I've always had family commitments (aka children) and now two dogs (similar commitment to children it seems) that have limited the length of time of travels to four weeks maximum.  

But yet I have been to many places that were on my wish list of places to see.   Probably close to a dozen times to Europe, including one time too many to Paris.   Australia and New Zealand,  England, Scotland, Ireland,  Mexico, Hawaii, much of Central America . . . But that doesn't mean I have run out of places to go.   Some of the places I have liked too much and have returned.   So if you want to be a traveller, start early and go often.   Don't wait until you can go First Class.   Especially when you are young or even youngish, you will be more accommodating of less comfortable beds and less quiet environments.  

One enormous advantage now:   The Internet.   You can check places out, make reservations, do virtual tours and  compare prices.   All that used to be impossible in the days when you had to go to a travel agent and hope for the best.

One main lesson I've learned:   When  an activity/sight/museum is something you really want to partake in, pay.  Don't consider the price.  (unless truly outrageous and even then . . .).  Especially if it's a case of 'I shall not pass this way again', do it.  When that isn't the situation, don't.   I never paid to ascend the various levels of the Eiffel Tower;  it just wasn't something that interested me.   

The second lesson is Know Yourself.  What's really important to you?   Why are you travelling to this destination?     If you are going to Granada, Spain to visit The Alhambra you had better make sure you have arranged tickets (in advance) and accept the cost of doing so.   When I wanted to visit Skellig Michael (and this was before it was featured in Star Wars - The Force Awakens)  I didn't quibble about the $50 each charge for a seat on a splintery wooden bench on a hastily converted fishing boat chugging eleven miles out into the Atlantic Ocean to that fascinating island.

There are often/sometimes cheaper ways of accomplishing the same thing.   Cruise ship excursions are a notorious example of over-pricing.   You can (almost) always do (much) better yourself through making arrangements though a local travel firm or even hiring a cab to take you there.    I paid half the price for an excellent two day tour in and around St. Petersburg after carefully checking on-line reviews and details.   

A lot of travellers' money can go to over-priced restaurants.   I enjoy my own cooking and almost always go for accommodation that allows me to do that.   I've paid for too many mediocre yet over-priced meals over the years.   Nowadays I tell myself that I will wait until the next all-inclusive resort stay or cruise to indulge my gourmet fantasies.   Plain food will be less likely to upset your stomach on an active, moving around a lot type of  travelling. 

Pack light, very light.   A large suitcase is an impediment.   Nobody will notice what you wear and if you're changing locations, you're seeing different people who don't know what you wore yesterday.  Quick!   Can you remember what your spouse (or teacher or boss) was wearing yesterday?  The day before yesterday?   I didn't think so.

If travelling is your dream then you won't mind eating a few (many) meals of beans and rice or the equivalent.   I never did.   

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Your last $10

Some seemingly trivial  things stick with you for years.   The reason probably says something about ourselves.    I watched a news program many years ago -- at least 15 years -- that I have thought about, and talked about,  more than a few times.  It featured  an American family that had fallen on hard times.   I don't remember the details other than they lived in a mobile home park and had children.   I can still visualize the young woman, dark blonde hair and a round, distressed face.    They were down to their last ten dollars; no food in the house.   She told the interviewer that she only had enough to go to the store and buy a pack of disposable diapers for the baby.   Then they would be broke and hungry, presumably until the next wage or government assistance cheque arrived.

I wanted to reach out to her through the television and say, NO!  The last thing you need to buy with that ten dollars is disposable diapers.   That kind of thinking is a large part of the reason you're in this present situation.  Would she have listened to me?   Was she already relying on learned helplessness to try yet again to implore someone, anyone to save her family.

What should she have done with that last ten dollars?   What would I have advised her to do?     This website, 50 lbs of Beans and Rice took up a challenge and purchased 25 lb bags of each for $21.98.   This article is from 2010 and there will be some inflation so I will tweak the figures a little and advise our subject to  buy half of that for $11.  Assuming inflation has increased her $10 to $15,   that leaves $2 for some bulk spices and $2 for some bulk oatmeal.   The author of Beans and Rice post writes that the 25 lb. bags would feed one adult for 40 days.  Half that should take care of the broke family for at least a week or so.  Boring but doable in the short run.  In any spare time plans could be made for a vegetable garden.   You can check out the details for yourself. 

All in all, more useful than a box of disposable diapers.   The unfortunate mother could make some cloth ones from old towels or tea towels.    Desperate times call for sensible measures.