Sunday, 25 June 2017



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

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.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Why stop budgeting?


I have to admit the title of this blog--and the book-- is designed to grab your attention.  Lots of people swear by budgeting and I have to admit that when you are inputting your data and filing receipts and adding up columns of figures you are not spending.   But other than that I consider there are definite negatives.    I could make the analogy to dieting, something that many nutritionists now agree doesn't work.    You deprive yourself for a short period of time to fit into a dress or other worthy-to-you goal and then you relax, go off your diet and enjoy your life again.   Short term pain but usually not long term gain.

Budgeting can be like a diet.   Lots of calculating, weighing portions (expenses), trading off chocolate cake . . . for the rest of the meal.   You miscalculate (cheat) on portion size because who could live on that minuscule amount.  You don't like kale but force yourself to eat it.   You avoid social and family functions -- too many embarrassing explanations.  

The problem:   You're following someone else's blueprint.   Their goals are not your goals.   You're being forced to do something -- and you're an adult.   Then there are the categories;   an awful lot seems to end up in miscellaneous.   You buy a hot dog and drink at your son's baseball game.   You pull out your little notebook and dutifully write it down . . . and hope no one notices and asks what you're doing.  Now does that go in the Food category, the Entertainment category (even if your son's team lost and he cried) or does it go in the Children category.   Could you put it in the Health and Wellness category because you and your son had a nice session wherein you built up his self-esteem and reminded him that everyone loses sometimes?

Or your daughter has a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to go to try-outs for a tennis scholarship.   It could change her life, make a difference for her, set her on her path for success BUT it isn't in your budget.   And you have willpower.  And you'll regret it forever.


A more useful habit than budgeting is the not shopping habit.   And it doesn't take any time, in fact it adds to your available time because you're not doing it.   In general, not budgeting works better for those people working towards early retirement or some other goal that you want so much you can almost taste it.    Analyze each expense as it comes along.   Do you really need it, can you get it cheaper elsewhere, can you borrow it?    Use your creativity.   Think!  The internet is great for coming up with solutions.  Some categories, like cable, you might want to delete entirely.

Once you have considered each purchase carefully, keeping in mind your list of dreams, let go of your anxiety.    You're good to go.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Breathing Room Money


I've heard this called something else involving a common expletive but you know what I mean.   Some people also think of it as a financial cushion or an emergency fund but it is more than that.    It's for the more major hiccups on the road of life that for some people end up being a chasm  from which it takes years to claw their way back up to the road.   I read an article a while back in (I think) The New Yorker about people who went from parking ticket to destitution and jail in relatively short order.   I think the article was more about the country's justice system and the delegation to private collection agencies and their unreasonable power.  For people living on the margins financially and earning $7 an hour a $200 parking ticket is an impossibility.     When tickets are farmed out to a private service with few scruples it becomes nightmare.   Every month without full payment adds a $35 service charge plus interest.   Other made-up charges accrue and before long the amount owing is in the thousands.   A couple of months in jail for failure to pay means eviction from your home and your children in foster care.    You develop a chronic illness in the jails and your children pick up criminal habits while in care.  Was the $200 parking ticket worth it to the state?

Usually 3 to 6 months is suggested as a financial cushion.    Back in the days when money was worth more I had the goal of accumulating $10,000 as the amount that I figured could support my family for a year of frugal living.   Attaining this goal was a tremendous relief.    I couldn't imagine a calamity that I would not be able to solve in a year's time.   For me it was similar to what some people feel with an insurance policy but for me, I knew for sure the money was mine and would be there for me should the need arise.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Twenty-five percent gratuity


Tips (or gratuities) can be a controversial topic.   Some parts of the world, like Australia, don't subscribe to this custom which is viewed as something Americans dreamed up.   Others, like France, include an automatic service charge of around 20%.   Watch out that you don't add an additional tip if you are visiting.    Some travel guides recommend that in addition to the included service charge you round up the bill so that if it is 18.20 Euros (probably not much of a meal in France) you leave a 20 Euro note.

In Scandinavian countries tips were called drikkepenge or drinking money.   It was often the coin change from a bill and the idea was that the server would accumulate enough over the course of an evening to have a few drinks himself after work.  Wikipedia has a country by country guide which can be useful for world travellers.

Some jurisdictions justify a lower minimum wage for servers under the theory that they will end up with more than that by including tips.    Generally, servers in mid-range eateries expect to double their wage with tips; higher end restaurants and bars and expect exponential returns.   Most only declare a portion of the tips received - 10% is standard.   The tips received are distributed by an internally decided formula so that bussers, hostesses, cooks and dishwashers share in the largesse.  Some establishments have servers tip out on their gross sales which can be unfair if a large table doesn't tip at all.   The tip portion for the rest of the staff comes out of her other tips.   In a less than friendly restaurant there's room for abuse and revenge.  

Cruise ships add standard amounts to each passengers bill--something like $14. per person per day.   On a two week cruise a couple would pay almost $400 in gratuities.   An additional 18% is charged on bar purchases.   Most people appreciate the service provided by staff but there can be some resentment at feeling that customers are making up for low wages paid by ships flying flags of low wage nations.

I've read that in New York City, twenty-five percent is the standard gratuity in restaurants.

One objection that is raised concerns the many low wage occupations that do not receive tips.  What is the solution?

Friday, 10 March 2017

Spending Fast

Some people choose January as the month to go on a spending fast or buy nothing month, but any month would work.  You can't avoid paying your rent or mortgage and other key expenses but  all non-essentials are eliminated.   Of course, deciding what is essential can be difficult.    You have to be honest with yourself.   Would your life be seriously impacted if you didn't buy x?   Can you borrow it?   Can you buy it used?  Those are all preferable to retail price plus sales tax.

We all have our particular weaknesses and it is best to acknowledge them.   I have no particular interest in tools or cars but a shiny new catalog from LL Bean can definitely tweak my interest.  My intention was just to look but before long I found something--actually a few somethings--that would definitely enhance my wardrobe.   Fill gaps.    Go with something that was lacking something to go with.  

The Current U.S/CAD exchange rate is one thing that definitely gives me pause but LL Bean does make good quality long lasting clothes.   I would be getting my money's worth.    Pause . . . pause.
Trying to decide what to do I was reminded of the time an aunt sent me home with a good three quarters of an enormous Black Forest cake that was left from a social occasion she was hosting.   How many calories did that contain?   How many snacks and desserts and little side pieces would I end up eating from it?     In a burst of inspiration I picked it up, ran out to the garbage bin (in my slippers) and tossed the cake in.    It was an enormous relief.    I decided to recycle the catalog, but quickly.

A fast of any kind is meant to be short-lived.   A trial run in case you were ever in serious trouble.   Valuable information  is provided to see just how low you can go.  But you're in charge and get to decide what you missed the most and don't want to do without.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Charity begins at home



Charity begins at home.  Here's one definition:

A proverb that expresses the overriding demands of taking care of one's family, before caring for others.

That begs the question:    To what extent does one take care of one's family before stating the job's done.   There are always improvements that can be made in accommodation, education,  food and amenities.    You child might be graduating with a doctorate at age 30 before you consider you have finished.    Does that mean all other worthy causes and endeavours are postponed until then?

But, let's be reasonable, you say.   No need to provide the also proverbial silver spoon.  Moderation in all things even though nowadays that can be expensive.   Standards have gone up from the crust of bread days.    Modern families do not view their children as prospective workers on the family farm.

Raising children takes  money and time.   It is an important job albeit society doesn't provide a reward for a job well done.   No, parents of grown children who  have become productive and happy citizens can pat themselves on the back but there is no government cheque forthcoming.   No attached note of thanks for the money that has been saved by the state in resources not required.   Your non-delinquent children have not used police or juvenile court services, social workers or probation officers.    The healthy diet of home cooked meals, regular sleep and outdoor exercise have kept medical costs to a minimum.   And now your offspring are securely ensconced in the tax paying middle class.

Our society needs these types of people, at least the way it is set up at present.    Are their numbers increasing?   Should this be considered a charitable contribution to the country/world that dwarfs the need for any other?

Friday, 24 February 2017

Sale / Not Sale


Do you chase sales?   By that I mean do you peruse flyers, make lists from them, go around to different stores to pick up certain items that happens to be on sale?    Do you find it works for you?

Following this method of saving money takes time and gas.   I've found it works well in the planning but not so well in the execution so for the most part I have abandoned chasing the sales.

Some of the problems I have encountered may be familiar to you.   

       -- The stock of the item has run out.   I've been dubious when this happens, particularly when it happens regularly  in the same store.   There was never that much stock in the first place I suspect.   Some stores will then tell you that you can have a Rain check and come back another time.     Others have the audacity to say that there are no Rain Checks on specials.    I suspect I've been made a sucker of in those cases.   It was a trick to get me in the store.   A few times I have gone back to redeem the Rain check but inevitably it becomes lost in the detritus of my purse.

      --  The sale won't commence for three days.   I will freely admit this is my fault for not checking the date.   The flyer comes with the neighbourhood newspaper.   I start a list and head off to the store the next day.   I spend a half hour tracking around the store picking up the items.   Maybe I realize halfway through that the items are listed at regular price;   did someone forget to change them?   At some point--hopefully before I've gone through the checkout--it is pointed out to me/I enquire and am told that the sale starts the next day or the day after that.   The small print at the bottom of the flyer with the dates of the sale is pointed out to me.   I  feel foolish and perversely annoyed.   Inevitably, I recycle that store's flyer immediately the next time.   Call me petty.   It's too much to keep track of and I don't want flyers cluttering up my home for days.

     --  The produce is just a day before it will be chucked.   The blueberries are wrinkled, the cucumber, once you get it home, turns out to be softening.   

That's for grocery or drug store shopping.   For clothing or household goods usually specific items aren't mentioned just a general 40% off selected items.   The selected items are those you wouldn't have selected and neither would most others.   That's why they are trying to get rid of them.   The clothes that don't look good on most people, the off white sofa for people who only have furniture for display purposes, no pets or small children.

Is there an easy solution?     Some people find a few stores that generally have good prices and good quality and they accept that while they may lose out on a few sale prices, overall they will come out ahead.   Costco shoppers fall in this category.    Some people develop a price book or at least a good working memory of what a good price is and stock up at those times, enough to last until the next time the item is on  sale which is usually every two to three months.   Still others adjust their menu plans to reflect what is on sale.   Then there are those who prefer a little of what you fancy and would rather skip the cheaper goods for  a small amount of what makes them feel good.   Think of expensive cheese or  one well tailored clothing item of quality fabrics.   What works for you?


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Beat the airlines at their own game

It sounds like a battle is being waged and all you are trying to do is take is take a vacation.   Airlines are facing the same problems as cruise ships in terms of pricing.  Many people travel regularly now, compared to a generation ago, and they want to keep  travelling.   They just want to pay the same as they did twenty years ago.

I took the same cruise last summer that I had taken twenty-five years earlier.   Same cruise line, same standard of cabin;   Vancouver to Alaska , return.   The 'catch'?    The price was the same:   $1250. CAD.    Competition is rampant in the cruise ship industry as many, many ships have been built or refitted over the past years.   Keeping the base price appealing means nickel and diming (not that a nickel or dime buys much these days) has become rampant.   I'll write more on this topic on a future post.

Airlines first brought in the charge for checking your luggage.   Quite a few people retaliating by travelling carry-on only, as I do.   Some carry-on size bags are quite large and if you've ever watched flight attendants trying to squeeze the large and numerous bags into the overhead bins on the aircraft you'll have figured out that the situation wouldn't be allowed to continue.   But it's not just the price, I and not a small number of others, have had checked baggage either lost, re-routed in error, or damaged.   Carry-on avoids that as well.   Win - win you might say.

United Airlines is first out of the gate in deciding to charge passengers for carry-on bags.  Now you can only bring on, for free, a bag that can fit under your seat.   Not much more than purse size.

This used to be economy

As a longstanding  carry-on traveller I have researched various ideas and methods that could be used to avoid checking your suitcase.   Some are amusing, some border on ridiculous and some seem downright clever.    Families can box up and send their vacation clothing to their tropical destination via UPS or some other carrier.  Or maybe you can send them General Delivery to the main post office at your first destination.   If you are staying at the same resort for one or two weeks or more this can save you money.   Four or five family members, each checking a suitcase would amount to $250 to $500.  ($25 - $50 each way x 5).   It seems it is cheaper to ship a box or boxes back and forth as long as you don't need to travel beyond your shipping destination.
Remember to put 'used clothes' as the content to avoid paying duty.

Then there's the suggestion of travelling with a carry-on bag (probably packed with your underwear) and upon arrival heading immediately to the nearest thrift store or charity shop.   For considerably less than the check luggage fee you and your children can purchase enough clothing to last a couple of weeks.   This reminds me of the character in Lee Child's book, whose title name escapes me, who bought a set of clothing, wore them for several days and then discarded them.  His busy life, tracking down notorious criminals, did not allow for time at the laundromat.

Tim Ferriss' blog (of 4 hour Work Week fame) which you can look at here   is pleased to provide a unique idea for avoiding ever checking luggage again:  Leave caches of clothing and even food at hotels you frequent. Seems to me it might require a large tip.

What about wearing all your clothes?    Check out this website, Jaktogo, for tips on how to wear all your clothes on your body when you fly.   Better hope the air-conditioning is working.  A more conservative version of this involves reversible clothing.   I suppose even the pants that zip off to become shorts and jackets that have sleeves that zip off to reveal a vest, reduce the amount of clothing required.

Will the day come when we pay our airfare by our body weight?  Wait, passengers from Samoa already enjoy that dubious pleasure.