Sunday, 25 June 2017

USE IT UP

 


There was a mantra in World War II:

       Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.   These were desperate times for many and there were shortages of basic goods during the depression, during the war and for many years after.   If you read articles, books or records of the time you can't help but be impressed with people's ingenuity and resourcefulness.   Does it take a crisis to bring this out in people?






Let's look at the first part of the phrase:   Use it up.   When I read that 40% of food goes uneaten here (this is an American article) it seems appalling to me.   Where does that 40% go?   Many places it seems.  There are losses in the farming process, in harvesting, packing and distributing.   We all know about losses in retail which at least provides something for those inclined to dumpster dive.  Then there are losses in restaurants and losses at home.   A lot of food is wasted but perhaps since it now goes into the organic waste container under the sink and is picked up with the garbage pick up by many cities, we feel better about it.   Do they turn it into fertilizer, we wonder?

At least with clothing we can donate what we no longer want to charities.  They are overflowing with our discards but some are difficult to make a profit from.  How much would you pay for a used T shirt that cost $3 new?    Those that remain unsold are shipped in bulk to countries in Africa where they undermine the local clothing manufacturers.

Do you use up your appliances?   Warranties have shrunk to minuscule levels over the years and a 3 month warranty is about all you will get without purchasing extra coverage.   The average lifespan of a large appliance seems to have been shrinking and replacement after five or six years doesn't seem unusual.   People will repair the appliance once except that repair costs can mean that it won't be done a second time.    The unwanted hulk is transported to the dump where it will rest indefinitely.

I have an old chair that my parents brought over from the Old Country when they immigrated sixty years ago.   People used to ship over their belongs it seems.   I've have it re-upholstered twice and the craftsperson remarked on the quality of the curved wood back.   I don't think I could ever use it up and I don't really want to.



Next time:   Wear it out!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Thrift Stores


   


How do you feel about thrift stores?   In my childhood, as an immigrant family, I remember trips to the Salvation Army.   There may have been other thrift stores at this time but I don't recall visiting any.   Years ago people had less, wasted less and definitely shopped less.   The Salvation Army store was in a poor part of town and not a place I enjoyed spending time.  There was a certain stigma it seemed.  Huge tables with heaps of tangled clothes and cigarette butts on the floor.   (These were the days when you could smoke anywhere)

Things have improved.   There are different types of thrift stores and some are better than others.    Different worthwhile causes are supported;   the one I went to today is part of the local hospital auxiliary.   So proceeds of sales go to a worthy cause.   That feels good.

I don't really need to shop at a thrift store.   Years of employment, careful spending and saving and investment have left me in that enviable position.     Our local thrift store gets lots of donations and lots of traffic.   Going there is almost an adventure and much more interesting than going to the mall, a chore I avoid.  You never know what you are going to find at a thrift store.   It can be a trip down memory lane.   Amazing what people hold on to and then finally donate.   I sometimes wonder if it is an estate matter.   The person has passed away and their family has to clear out a large home filled with memories.   Only they are not their memories.  Today, I looked through sewing patterns that I recognized from thirty years ago.   I sifted through a collection of the Golden Books series for children and found Heidi which was one I read and re-read in my childhood.   I had to get that for 25 cents.

Sometimes there are things I don't really want to spend much on.  I probably could skip them altogether.     Here's an example:   Booties for my dog.   Would they protect his feet?   Would he refuse to wear them?   I don't want to spend $20 to find out but for $1.50 I'll give them a try.   If you have a weakness (don't we all!) a thrift store is a place to get a cheap fix.   Think scarves, purses.  Maybe you would like to try a new hobby or a new sport.     
      




Then there's the treasure hunt aspect.  The most interesting things can end up in thrift stores.  I have to confess I don't buy clothes there although I have donated them.    I tend to prefer to follow the thoughts behind the 10 item wardrobe designed by the Daily Connoisseur or even The 33 item wardrobe wherein you commit to wearing only 33 items for 3 months.   Getting what makes you look great and is good quality, not to mention coordinating, can be extremely difficult in a thrift shop.

Have you shopped in thrift stores?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Needs and Wants

   








You may have done the exercise of considering potential expenditures as falling into the category of either a need or a want.   You probably think of a need as a legitimate use of your funds as in you need to eat to survive or you need to drive to your job as you'll be fired if you stop showing up.  At first glance this appears to be supremely useful but it can have the effect of truncating the analysis.

You might make a list:

Need to pay                                    Want to buy
                                          
Housing                                          a dog
Food                                               new shoes
Car                                                 dinner at new restaurant
Telephone                                      Travel
Credit card interest                        music lessons


You'll notice that the items on the left, the Need category are the ones you might see on a typical pre-printed budget that you fill out.   They tend to be big ticket items or the larger line items in your budget.   But since you need them, and need to spend the money they cost, you focus instead on limiting or eliminating the wants.    Now some of those wants may be frivolous, unnecessary and short-lived pleasures.  But some of them may add life long meaning to your life and memories that you will remember on your death bed.  I appreciate that my immigrant parents paid for piano lessons for years enabling me to have a talent and pleasure I enjoy today.   Many people consider their pet to be a member of their family that they would not do without.

Maybe a tiny house is too extreme for you

If you cut your housing expenses by two thirds you will be able to still have something you need, ie. a roof over your head and at least several of your wants.   Impossible you say.  Not really, you just need to think outside the box.   Families today live in houses three times the size of a couple of generations ago.   1200 square feet comprising 3 bedrooms and one bathroom used to work just fine but today 3600 + is more common with 5 bathrooms and 4 bathrooms the norm.   Somehow it became a rule that each child should have their own bedroom.   I think that idea has its root in advertising and marketing.   When in doubt about the origins of something that has become accepted, follow the money!   Who is benefitting from enormous over-the-top weddings?   Separate rooms for 60 shoe wardrobes?

Is it you?



Sunday, 4 June 2017

Cold Turkey? Or . . .


   



I am not referring to smoking cessation.   I don't have any experience with that myself but I understand it is very difficult and usually takes many attempts to be successful.   The question is whether it is easier or at least more advantageous to wake up one morning and never smoke another cigarette or to try to gradually wean yourself off the habit by smoking one less a day or using some kind of filtration system that gradually reduces the amount of nicotine.   You can wear a nicotine patch or chew special gum to try to assist your self.   But as Yoda said,  "Do or do not; there is no try."

What about if you want to make a serious change to your relationship with money.   Spending Fasts are a version of cold turkey.   You commit to only paying for essentials and define bills very strictly.   Maybe you only eat what is in your freezer or on your pantry shelves.   You pay your rent or mortgage and utilities.   It would be expecting too much for you to sit in the cold and dark or huddling around a solitary candle.   It doesn't help you to damage to credit rating by not meeting financial commitments you made, even if done rashly.    For some/many people omitting shopping, paid entertainment and socializing is difficult.  But lots of people have declared their intention to the world and left blog posts online for you to peruse at your leisure.  Presumably only the successful ones wrote a post about it the others cowered in shame and hoped no one noticed.

But realistically, making serious changes to your spending habits as well as your approach to your finances  can be done gradually, in stages, and there is an argument to be made that it will work better in the long run if done that way.   Unless you are facing bankruptcy, you can be a little gentle with yourself.  But only a little!

It is best if you have a goal to focus on when the going gets tough.   You want to live longer, be healthier, set a good role model for your children.    This applies to both the cigarettes and your finances.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Do Charities Manage their Donations Well?

 



We  moved to a new home almost a year ago.  It had been previously occupied by an elderly woman, now deceased about a year and a half.   She must have been generous because a steady stream of charities are still writing to her asking for donations, including local and federal political parties.   They are all mainstream charities whose names I am familiar with and perhaps the lady felt this would ensure her donations were well spent.   I notice that the charities spend a lot on postage yet must have no way of knowing if the donor has moved away or died.   Many solicitations seem to include date books, calendars or other goodies perhaps attempting to create a feeling of required reciprocity.

I've wondered about charities that I've supported myself over the years. When I research charities in general I  usually haven't been pleased with the information that's come my way.   Large, well known charities are often top heavy with administrators and Chief Executive Officers and similar positions are generously renumerated.   Large offices in high rent areas appear to be necessary.    A Moneysense article provides some details about the efficiency of large charities in Canada. Charity Navigator calls itself a guide to intelligent giving but some organizations have disputed their figures, for example, here.
  


One way to uncover more information is to volunteer at organizations that provide services you value.   Unfortunately,  as is often the case where you are employed, you may be disappointed to find that waste is endemic.   I have heard that from those employed in both medical and educational institutions.    People may be well-intentioned but they make poor choices.   This article in the National Post details how only 45% of funds raised for cancer go to fight cancer.  Having a good heart doesn't necessarily make a person financially savvy.  Small charities may yield to spending money developing logos, attending conferences or paying too much for office space.    In developing countries corruption can be rampant.   The justification may be given that some people are unfairly rich and resources (also known as other peoples' money) need to be redistributed.

When I was involved with a school parent group I found out that in middle class/well to do areas parents were allowed to fund raise for computer labs while in poorer areas where fund raising was minimal the school district would provide the computer labs.   Seems like another form of taxation.

What is the solution?






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 Amazon.ca



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.