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Monday, 31 December 2012

Money Saving New Years Resolutions

Money Saving New Years Resolutions you might actually keep

Have you ever read Anne of Green Gables? I adore the whole series with the first three books being on my list of all time favourites.  Truth be told, my daughters middle name, Anne, was for this beloved storybook character. In one of the books Anne explains why she loves mornings so much- they are beautiful days without any mistakes in them yet.   That's more or less how I feel about New Years Day. Except I am an imperfect being and even by dawn on New Years Day I have done something to mar its perfection (sigh when my 4 year old wakes us up at 2am to announce he's gone pee- since he has been dry by night potty trained for well over a year now this has long ago lost its novelty,  slept too late, rushed my children, failed to be present etc).  So I usually take today, New Years Eve to revel in the beauty, magic and perfection of possibility that exists for the coming year.

My list of resolutions for the new year are so typical they would be considered downright boring. But or those of you with financial goals on your resolution list, I thought I might help guide you with a short list of resolutions you could actually keep- and will save you some money as you do.

1. Shop the perimeter
When you grocery shop everything you actually need is on the perimeter of the store. I know you're mentally walking through your local grocery store right now...and there it all is.  Your fruits, veggies, eggs, milk, cheese, meats everything you need for healthy delicious meals.   Bonus is that almost nothing you need is taxed.  Pizza Pockets- taxes apply, fresh bell peppers- tax free.
I'm not insisting you cut out all crackers, coffee, and chocolate chips.  I know that is a resolution likely broken January 2nd- the first day of the year the stores are open.  Just be aware.  Shop the perimeter first.  Then really think about what it is you're headed into those middle aisles for.  Ask yourself if you actually need it or if you could make due with a tax free alternative. Do you need to buy a jar of applesauce, or could you whip some up tonight in the kitchen with some apples? (The answer is yes, yes you could.  You remember my negative relationship with cooking? Even I make our own applesauce).

2. Make a household product
Start the year by choosing just one.  Laundry soap, dishwasher detergent, all purpose cleanser, hard water stain remover, drain cleaner, window cleaner...these are just a few of the products you can skip buying for a year if you make your own (side note: cleaners like the ones listed above are located in the middle section of your grocery store...what does that tell you?)
By arming yourself with vinegar, lemons and baking soda you would be able to create a number of effective and non toxic cleaning supplies.
Did you know:
- a few tablespoons of lemon juice added to the humidifier will help deodorize the air in the home
-lemon juice and baking soda will remove hard water stains from chrome
- a paste of lemon juice and salt will clean and freshen your sink.
- lemon is a very effective grease cutter, use it to clean stove tops, cutting boards or small appliances
-vinegar and salt mixture poured on weeds will both kill existing weeds and prevent them from returning
-if your dog is sprayed by a skunk, rubbing his fur with undiluted vinegar and rinsing will help remove the odour
-instantly stop hiccups by taking one tablespoon of vinegar
-bring wilted vegetables back to life by soaking them in 3 cups water with 1 1/2 tablespoon vinegar
Those are just a few ideas to help you see that pre-packaged household supplies may not be as much of a need as they are advertised to be.

3. Buy used
In an ideal world the best thing to do is budget for a new item, buy it used and save the difference.  This is one of the best and fastest ways to financial freedom.  However, for most people this is not an ideal world.  We might need a new car before we've saved $25,000, or we might need something now that we just are not able to find used (like a snowsuit for a baby girl 18-24 months....for some reason impossible to find around here this season) but at the very least check it out.
Since there exist websites like or, thrift stores, consignment shops and auctions it should make it obvious that buying used is something almost everyone does, even if they don't talk about it.  Know what else people usually don't talk about? Their debt.

4. Find real entertainment
Browsing at all the mall is not entertainment.  It needs to not be your go to option when you want something fun to do. Ask yourself honestly, how many times do you go to browse the mall and come back empty handed? But you just bought one little thing, you justify.  But if you hadn't been at the mall for entertainment you wouldn't have bought it. So, did you really need it? One small thing multiplied by every time you go to the mall is is going to add up- to both a lot of money and a lot of clutter.
Skating rink is entertainment, live theater is entertainment, festivals and fairs are entertainment. The mall is your local source for buying new items. Period.

5. Drink more water
Totally boring resolution, right? I'm still going to recommend it. Strongly.
There are two pretty big name soft drink brands out there right now.  You know they contain sugar and lots of it, but have you ever wondered why? Not why do they contain sugar, but why so much?  Because they need to cover the taste of salt added to the drinks. If the highest concentration ingredient in a soft drink is sugar the second highest is salt.  They add salt to make you thirsty, so you'll drink more of their drinks.   Pretty clever if you ask me.  Except all that salt and sugar isn't good for you- your body or your budget. After all, these drinks are not free!
Your body craves water.  Its almost free (from the tap).  Getting enough water can cure headaches, soothe cramps, repair dry or blemished skin.  In fact, in many people the thirst response is so weak that we often mistake it for hunger. So if you're feeling a bit nibbly try a glass of water and wait 20 minutes, chances are your cravings have faded - saving even more money on snack foods.

I am looking forward to 2013, am excited for the opportunities it might contain for me and my loved ones.  I wish you, gentle readers, peace and joy for the whole coming year.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Only Boring People Get Bored

Now, I don't know about you,  but I have zero sympathy for people claiming to suffer from boredom. There is just so much to do and get done and experience in this world that boredom is simply a choice.

That's not to say I'm unfeeling and hard hearted. I understand that there are limits of reality and finances that could prevent someone from doing exactly what they desire.  However, there do exist many options to fill your social calendar as much as you desire. And because you're reading it here you know all these options are free or very inexpensive.

There is only one simple way to achieve the level of social involvement you crave: get involved!
Get involved in your local food bank charity, blood donor clinic, PTA, library, community center or church.
This isn't just about giving back, this is about all beneficial facets of getting out there.

First, choose something you're interested in. You might not be that interested in books, so you might decide that the library isn't for you. But look twice! Most public libraries offer classes, groups or events aimed at poets or musicians as well as literacy lovers.  Taking a class or attending an event would come at a very minimal cost. Groups are almost always free, And if you decide to teach a course you might even be able to turn your interest into profit.

Classes at the community center will typically be more costly,  usually averaging $5-$7 per class. But with an option for just about any interest under the sun this will satisfy just about anyone.

Joining the PTA committee, a church or volunteering is really about meeting people. Meeting people in these ways usually means that you share some common values, and that can lay the ground work for some great friendships. Of course, meeting people through the library or community center usually ensures some similar interests and possible friendships as well.

I know not everyone wants to walk around networking on the first day of a martial arts class, but if you open yourself up to that possibility it will usually happen quite naturally.

Not only does getting involved in these ways help you fill up your social calendar for minimal cost on the days of the classes and events but soon you could find yourself attending So-and So's birthday or holiday party.

The larger network of friends and friendly acquaintances you  have the easier it can be to hold fast to your frugal lifestyle. Yup, you read that right.  A lot of people, in an effort to save money, stay in and do nothing. Of course their resolve is quickly broken! No need for that to be you.

Arrange a "baby swap" with some friends. You watch their kids one night at no cost, and they watch yours another night. Have or attend a movie night or game night. Get together for batch freezer cooking, or when in need of large ticket items hit the auctions together. Reaching out to your friends is a great way to swap Halloween costumes (for you or the kids) or share driving responsibilities so you don't have to pay for a cab.

Getting involved in your community is a wonderful way for you to give back and benefit personally.

Monday, 24 December 2012

5 ways to save money with minimal changes

As a sequel to my 5 Ways to Save Money Without Sacrificing Anything, I thought I would post this-
5 Ways to Save Money With Minimal Changes

The tips listed here are primarily intended to get you to rethink how you spend your money.  Sometimes our habits or the things we think we "need" have become so second nature that we don't notice what a waste a lot of it is.

1. Use men's deodorant
You get more. It works better. It costs less.
But you don't want to smell like a man.- so get unscented.  Sure unscented doesn't smell "pretty" but do your armpits really need to smell like watermelons?

2. Lower the temp on your hot water heater 10 degrees F  
But you like hot showers, you say.  Here is where I point out that even when taking a hot shower you turn on the cold water with the hot water.  Add less cold to your shower and you wont even notice the difference. I promise.

3. Cruise Control
If you do any amount of highway driving use this feature to save yourself some money.  Many people don't know that 90 km/h is the ideal speed in terms of fuel utilization. So get yourself to 90, hit cruise control and enjoy your drive knowing you're saving about 10% on your gasoline costs. And unless you're driving massive distances going 90km/h instead of 100km/h will not actually make a noticeable difference on your commute time. Really. Do the calculation
4.  Try a toy rotation for your kids
You know it happens. Your little one gets a new toy and he TOTALLY loves it!!!! For two weeks. Then, he doesn't seem to care about it anymore, Honestly hes a bit bored of it.  How frustrating for you and your toy budget!
 So divide up your toys into toy boxes, mesh laundry baskets or plastic bins. Then put all the bins but one out of sight.  When your little ones start to get bored with their toys, just swap it out for the other bin. (I personally do the swap every two months) Zero dollars spent and all the excitement of Christmas morning for your kids. 100% win situation.

5. Turn off the TV.
I'm not going to get into how cancelling cable is a huge money saver, and something you honestly wont miss after two weeks (I say this from experience as my family is now well over a year cable free and I will NEVER go back to cable). But if nothing else at least reduce the screen time. Cut it down by an hour a day and watch your life transform.

 The benefit here is several fold. Powering that giant screened TV everyone owns is not free, multiply that by the number of TVs in your home and that's a pretty big cost commitment just to keep them on!

Those commercials playing every 7 minutes - they are not by accident.  The more exposed you are to them the more you start responding to the "needs" they are inventing. and buying the products they tell you to.

Once the TV is off you will discover a bunch more time than you thought you had. That time will motivate you to be productive. Maybe you will use it to go for a run, starting a healthy lifestyle that cuts down on your medical costs. Or maybe you wrap your own holiday gifts in your new found time instead of paying someone at the mall to do it. Maybe you finally roll your jar of change and find $60 you didn't even know was there. Every hour of reduced TV time is money in the bank, so start small because before you know it big changes will be very easy to do.

Happy money saving and Merry Christmas, gentle readers!!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

5 ways to save money without sacrificing anything!

Usually when people hear about my commitment to our frugal lifestyle they assume that we have to make changes and compromises in order to keep our financial goals within our reach.   Most of the time those people are right.  But I thought it worth mentioning that there are, in fact, a few ways you can save some money without sacrificing anything.

1.  Invest in a foundation brush
      Ladies, you can keep using whatever liquid make up you're comfortable with but get rid of your make up sponges! What is a sponge designed to do? Absorb! So guess what happens to all your expensive winds up not on your skin but inside the sponge.  A foundation brush will beautifully apply your make-up without absorbing it.   To be clear, make-up will still become trapped between the bristles so of course the brush will require cleaning every so often, as you would any of your other make-up brushes.
You will notice your foundation lasts three to four times longer this way.
Oh! For those of you using your fingers to apply your liquid foundation, just cut it out. Really. Nothing good will come of it unless you're a particular fan of pimples and streaky make-up.

2. Leave-in conditioner
So you think the only hair conditioner that works for you is the stuff you shell out $38/bottle for?  Well I'm not even going to have that argument with you right now.  Instead I will tell you how to get more for your money.  Get a spray bottle from the dollar store.  Fill with one part conditioner and three parts water. Shake.
While in the shower wash and rinse your hair.  When you get out of the shower shake the bottle and lightly spritz the ends of your hair.  You will still get all the benefits of your conditioner but you get four times the life span.  The great part is, the savings are two fold since you're not in the shower spending money on the heated water during that conditioning step.

3. Going to the movies
You might think I'm about to go on about only seeing movies on discount nights, or bypassing the concession stands.  But this post isn't about that.  Its about doing what you want, just for less.  So go to the movies, see the one you want to see and even grab some popcorn while you're there.   Just hit Costco first.  You can buy movie passes there, they come as a night out for two, so your cost includes admission for two adults, a popcorn and two fountain drinks- for the price of two admissions! So simply by stopping at Costco first you effectively get free drinks and popcorn!

4. Toilet paper
You can use your regular brand of toilet paper, and I wont even tell you to go single ply.  But before you put the roll on the holder, step on it, creasing the cardboard roll in the center. Now you will notice that the roll doesn't spin freely or as smoothly.  If you have kids this is one of the best defenses against the whole roll ending up in the toilet bowl at once because they got mesmerized by the spinning, Even without children,  anyone in your home will use less paper if its just that much harder to get lots of.   You might think this wont make a big difference,  But check it out over a year, you'll be surprised.

5. Liquid soap
Bar soap is cheaper, works just as well, lasts longer and usually encourages people to wash their hands longer and better. But you knew I was going to say that.  You still want to use liquid soap because it doesn't get slimy in the dish, or crack as it dries. *sigh* Fine.  Have it your way, use your liquid soap.  But at least cut a small section from a straw and wrap it around the post of the pump.  This will limit the amount of soap dispensed at each pump.  And I promise you don't need that much soap to get your hands clean.  Its about washing well, not washing with lots of soap and suds.

So there it is, gentle readers, a little bit of money left in the bank for you every month while you still get to do everything you're doing now.  It's my holiday gift to you.

Stay tuned for my 5 ways to save money with minimal changes.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Family/ Couple gift under $10

Years ago, when we first announced that we would no longer be giving store bought gifts I was also very clear that when it came to Christmas gifts everyone would be getting the same thing.
I do this mostly because it saves my nerves.  Thinking up one handmade gift a holiday is enough, I couldn't possibly think up and complete a different gift for each person on my list.   But it's not to be ignored that making several of the same thing is miles cheaper than making several different things.  

Happy Mug Set
This year our gift is simple, useful, cute and inexpensive. WIN! We are making mustache mugs.  Each family/ couple/ person will receive a set of four mugs and a half pound of our custom coffee blend. All for about $10!

Here's how you, too, can make some fun mugs to delight those on your holiday list. 
You will need:
- set of four white coffee mugs (we got ours on sale at Superstore) -$6/set
- black Sharpie OIL BASED medium point paint marker (Michael s craft store) $3 after coupon 
- double sided tape
- scissors
-rubbing alcohol 
-cotton balls
-cookie sheet

Before I go into how TO do this project, let me give you some hints on how NOT to do this project. 
1. You may read somewhere, or multiple places, that if you use a regular Sharpie marker on a glazed mug and bake it, the marker becomes water resistant and won't wash off with regular use.  This is simply not true.  That mustache will wash right off.  And you will feel frustrated. You might even cry if its 11:30 pm and your mugs are for a gift exchange happening the next day.....
2. You may have spotted some enamel paints made for ceramics at the craft store. I tried these paints.  They can work.Avoid the opaque version.  Opaque paint on a glazed mug looks unfinished and homemade, even though all my gifts are homemade I don't want them looking like it.  Avoid the 3D version.  You might think it doesn't matter because you will be brushing the paint smooth, but it doesn't work like that.  The paint is formulated for a dimensional and textured look and thats what will happen.  The regular glossy enamel paint is better but you still get visible brush stroke lines.  And no, using a foam brush to avoid brush lines doesn't work. The foam absorbs all the paint and then becomes thick and hard and unusable.   I cannot tell you how many supplies I went through before finally getting the look I was after.
3. I recommend the Sharpie oil based paint marker because it really is the best for this purpose.

To begin clean the exterior of your mug with the rubbing alcohol and cotton balls. This helps the paint stay on and is totally worth the effort.

Google "free mustache templates" and choose four that particularly speak to you. Print them, onto cardstock preferably but plain paper would do just fine.   Carefully cut out your mustaches and apply double sided tape to the back.
My personal favourites
Secure the template to your mug.
Holding the paint marker upright shake well and gently depress the maker tip a few times.  Then, using a scrap of paper or cardstock, while holding the marker downward (as you would to write) continue to depress the marker tip repeatedly until a smooth flow of paint is achieved.

Trace around your template. Then remove the template. Do this carefully, sometimes the tape is super sticky, but do get it all off.  If you are making more than one set of mugs keep the template for future use.
Colour in your mug with the paint marker. Allow to dry for 15-20 minutes.
Just in case you were unclear about the colouring step :)
Examine you work.  You may find spots you missed or would like to touch up- now is the time.
Looking closely you can see some spots that need touching up
Place your mugs on a cookie sheet and into a cold oven. Set the temperature for 350 and your timer for 30 minutes.  When the timer sounds turn off the oven but leave the mugs inside to cool.

That Guy enjoying his mug
Now your friends and family can enjoy the novelty of a silly mustache without the facial hair commitment. Because THAT is what's really on everyone's wish list this holiday season. :)

Monday, 10 December 2012

Cookie exchange win for the baking impaired

Part of our holiday celebrations include the annual cookie exchange.
Now let me be clear, I am a lousy baker and a much worse cook. But That Guy is a pastry chef with a background in catering so my culinary abominations usually need not affect my dear family.  Yet as the holiday season approaches I know how much That Guy (who has an undeniable sweet tooth) would love something yummy that he didnt have to make himself.
Enter the cookie exchange! An ideal solution for providing my husband a freezer full of delicious for minimal cost, and lets face it, opportunity for things to go amiss in the kitchen.
All I have to do is make six dozen sweets.... with almost no skills....

But, my gentle readers, I have a solution! And moreover, one I am willing to share with you here today!
For roughly the same cost as baking six dozen cookies you can make six dozen beautiful jewel chocolates. They are easy enough that even I, or the average child, could make them.

You will need:
- jewel chocolate mold (available at your local big box craft store) $1.80 after coupon **please always use a coupon!**
- coloured melting chocolate (available at the same craft store) $2.10 after coupon/per bag.  I needed one bag for each colour and I chose to make four colours. = $8.40
- never before used paint brush - on hand
- pearl dust/ luster dust $5.20 after coupon/ per colour.  Using the same four colours as the chocolates =$20.80
- refrigerator - on hand
-microwave -on hand

Total cost $31/six dozen

I know that sounds like a lot of money. But if we factor in what it would cost us to make six dozen different types of holiday sweets I think we still come out ahead.  Plus, these chocolates just might be the prettiest dessert at the party, and that has to count for something.  :)

To begin, wash your mold and dry thoroughly.  When you think its dry, dry it one more time.  Water is the undoing of chocolate.  It causes it to seize, which pretty much means it goes lumpy, gross and unworkable.

Then take your paintbrush and brush a light coating of luster dust into each well of your mold. Remember to do the sides as well.

Next we have to melt the chocolate.  I choose to do this in a microwave because, frankly the stove and I are not friends.  However, if you and your stove have a positive working relationship feel free to pull out the ole double boiler and go at it that way.
Put the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. I used the whole bag.  One whole bag each of four colours will make about seven dozen chocolates.  Put the bowl in the microwave for about 25 seconds. Remove and stir. Continue at 25 second pulses stirring between each. If you're thinking you can save yourself a lot of time by just microwaving the bowl for two minutes non stop, lets just say I promise that doesn't work out well.

I spooned my chocolate into a squeeze bottle for convince.  Spooning the melted chocolate into the mold directly would work fine too.

Once your chocolate is in the mold wells you need to pick up the mold and tap it against the counter. Use light moderate force and do this several times.  The purpose is to level the surface of the chocolates and to remove air bubbles caught inside the mold.  You might notice small bubbles rising as you tap, you're doing it right.

 Put your mold in the fridge.  That Guy assures me they only need about ten minutes in the fridge to set..  Being rather wary in the kitchen I gave them a full 30 minutes.  Remove them from the fridge, turn the mold over and gently pop out each chocolate.

Brush the tops and side of your chocolates in luster dust.  You may want to be slightly more generous with the dust this time than you were when coating the mold.

Package them up and take them to the cookie exchange where people will think you know your way around a kitchen ;)
Handy tip: if using the squeeze bottles for chocolate as I did they can be a pain in the neck to clean and waste a lot of yummy chocolate goodness in doing so.  Instead, put the squeeze bottle in the fridge. After a few minutes remove the bottle and give it a squeeze.  The chocolate will break off cleanly from the sides and bottom of the bottle and the bits can be shaken out into a zip top bag for future use (or snack). Then wash the bottles as normal.


Monday, 3 December 2012

DIY Christmas- $2 hat and scarf sets

Because you probably  have more than one person on your Christmas list I thought I would continue with my DIY Christmas gifts.
Today I will be showing you a wildly simple way to make a hat and scarf set.   Although I am making them for my son and daughter they would be well loved gifts for children or adults.In fact, handmade fleece scarves were our gift to the civil servants - read :garbage collectors and mail carrier- last Christmas.

I decided to sew my hats, but there is a way one could do it with NO SEWING. I will share that with you at the end of the post.
Roses for Audrey and monster for Walter
So without further ado here is your tutorial for SIMPLE HAT AND SCARF SET.

You will need

- fleece 1 m (the amount you need will depend on the size of the hat and scarf you are making. 1 meter will be more than plenty - I got three sets of childrens sizes out of one meter) $5.25/m
- scissors
-measuring tape
- sewing machine
- ribbon/craft felt/ fabric paints ect (optional, for decorating purposes)
 Total project cost: a little over $1.75/set

Fleece fabric has stretch to it.  But only in one direction. Its important that you be watchful of this or you may end up with a very uncomfortable hat.  It matters much less for the scarf.

Since the scarf is, hands down, the easiest of the two I will begin with it.
Your scarf will be most comfortable if you have the stretch of the fabric running the length of your scarf.
Since I made my sets for children I did very small scarves.
Measure 6 inches wide and approx 37 inches long
Cut out this rectangular scarf 
Fold scarf in half lengthwise.
Cut fringe on the ends of your scarf, cutting both layers at once.  I typically cut fringe 3 inches long every inch.
Feel free to embellish and decorate to your hearts content.
**Specific to projects shown**
For my sons scarf I did not cut fringe, instead I attempted to cut "monster claws" in the ends. Then I hot glued bright green craft felt under the "claws" to make them stand out.  This would look MUCH better if you took the time to plan your design and didn't just start cutting at random hoping for a monster effect like....some people......
For my daughters scarf I wanted to make it pretty, so I attached a felt rose to the side. I had the ol hot glue gun all heated up and was about to glue the rose in place when I got another idea. My daughter is still very young (read: wriggly) and I'd like to avoid the scarf coming open under her jacket. So why not use the rose as a button of sorts?  This did take a bit more work because hot glue would not have held the rose on well enough for button use. So I got out thread coordinating with the colour of fleece and sewed the rose on by hand..  Then on the opposite side of the scarf I cut a small slit for the button opening.
The "button" sits high enough that it will peek out over the top of her jacket and look adorable.

Begin by measuring the head of your recipient.  If this is not possible use 22 inches as a standard adult size and 18-20 inches for children.
Your width according to your recipient, remembering that you need to cut the width along the stretch of your fabric.
I use a length of 11 or 12 inches regardless of the age of my recipient.
Cut a scrap width (along the stretch) of 6 inches by 1 inch long

Fold your rectangle in half with *right sides* together. (Since solid coloured fleece does not have a *right* or *wrong* side, I use solids as often as possible to avoid mix ups)  Folded it should still measure 11 or 12 inches long. 
Using the stretch stitch on your sewing machine sew along the raw edge. Now you have a fleece tube :) Turn your tube to right side out. Adjust it so the seam runs along the back of your hat.
Whats a stretch stitch? It looks like this on your sewing machine and allows the stitch to stretch with the fabric

Cut the same fringe along the top of your hat as you did on the scarf. The longer you make your fringe the larger your pom pom will be. Remember to cut the fringe at the edges as well.

Using you length of scrap, tie under the edge of the fringe, pulling as tightly as possible. Knot. Cut the ends of the tie as closely to the knot as possible.

For the hats "brim" fold the bottom edge uf the fleece up approx 1/2inch. The fold again. Pin in place.  Using the stretch stich on the sewing machine again sew along the brim.

**Specific to projects shown**
For my sons hat I decided to embellish with a fun monster face. I cut my pieces out of craft felt and hot glued them together and to the hat.  The great thing about making a monster face (and if I'm going to be honest, the real reason I did a monster) is because you don't need a pattern or  anything to be exact. I simply cut until I thought my four year out would be pleased with the results. Again, should one choose to plan their design before hand one might be rewarded with a more polished result. :)
For my daughters hat I maintained my pretty theme and stuck with the simple rose. Here's how to make a easy felt rose:
Cut a circle_ish shape from craft felt. approx 6 inches in diameter.
Cut the circle into a spiral, leaving a small circle in the center.

Starting form the outside edge cut a scalloped edge on your spiral.
Again beginning from the outside edge roll your spiral. I added a dab of hot glue every inch or so to give it more structural integrity

.Complete the process by gluing the small circle in the center of the spiral to the bottom of the rose.

 Add a dab of hot glue to the rose center and press in a faux peal bead.
Then glue the pretty rose to the hat.

If you're still with me at this point you may have noticed my frequent use of the hot glue gun for this project. So here's some great news for all the NO SEWers out there..... For every time I used my sewing machine you can substitute a hot glue gun! Really!! The finished project is the same and it holds up to even children, honestly my daughter has gone to church in a hot glue gun hat for weeks now. :)

Monday, 26 November 2012

DIY Christmas gifts- Felt car mat less than $5

Ah,Christmas!  I love Christmas - the music, the twinkling lights, the baking and friends. And since I have spent the last three years working on DIY holidays, even my budget can enjoy Christmas.

I have kicked off my holiday gift preparations with a gift for my nephew.   My nephew is just weeks shy of his second birthday but this gift would be well loved by a child car lover of almost any age.   In fact I will be making a second one for my son Walter.
Here is a quick tutorial on how to DIY a FELT CAR MAT.

What you will need:
-1/2 m of green felt off the blot ($2.40 if you can get it on sale as I did)
- 1/4 m black felt off the bolt ($1.20)
- printer
- scissors
- straight pins
- felt craft sheets in an assortment of colours (on hand)
- hot glue gun
- hot glue sticks. Lots.  Really, I used 16 ($1.25)
- fabric paints (optional). (on hand)
- ribbon (on hand)
Total cost for this gift: less than $5

Since my hand cutting skills are a work in progress  poor  non existent I had to do a bit more leg work than the artistic bunch out there might have to.  I used google to find some free printable colouring pages of the images I wanted for my town (school house, hospital, gas pumps, church ect).  Then I adjusted them to the right size (i used quarter page size) and printed out the simple image.  This became my "pattern".   After cutting the image from the paper I pinned it to my felt sheet and cut around it.
Yes, I actually had to do this for a simple tree image :)

Next I repeated the idea with the green to complete tree then hot glued the pieces together.
Continue until you have cut out and hot glued all the pieces of your town together.
City bits
 Next you can add some details with fabric paints. I used the paints to add things like doorknobs, flower boxes, shingles, store names ect.  While that is drying pull out your half meter of green felt. It's time to plan a city!  I was a bit surprised to discover that this was the most challenging step for me. I agonized over where the hospital should go and how many trees should be in a school yard.  Finally That Guy advised that I model  the town after our own neighbourhood and I did something similar to that.  (We don't have a traffic circle in our neighbourhood but I had to add one because they would just be so much fun for the kids).  I used regular sidewalk chalk to plan out my city because I'm visual like that.
You thought I was kidding about a lack of artistic  ability? I wasn't . 
Using your black felt from the bolt cut out and glue down your roads. You can get black felt in the craft sheets, so why do I recommend  getting it from the bolt? Because its simply a larger piece  So you can have fewer "seams": in your roads and  all the black will be from the same dye lot. I used yellow fabric paint to add the road lines, but cutting small bits of yellow felt and gluing them down would work just as well.
I left a space free along the right hand border of my mat so I could name the city.

After the roads are all in glue down your city bits. I start getting pretty excited at this point because its all starting to really come together. If you so desire name the city along the free space.  Both felt letters or fabric paint work just as well for this purpose.
Now you can fold the mat in half, then in half again and roll it.  Use that ribbon to tie it up and it is now perfectly portable. Keeping your kids quiet and happy at home, church, doctors office - you've got it covered now!

Monday, 19 November 2012


Recently I posted about my son's birthday celebration. Instead of the traditional "party" which includes gifts we simply celebrate with all our friends.  No gifts, but we do have a box for non perishable food items should anyone wish to bring something.

That Guy and I made this decision about two years ago, just before Walter's second birthday. We did it for a number of reasons...  
Primarily because I run a home day care.  We have a bazillion toys.  Really, a bazillion!    Our day care toys are packed in huge plastic toy boxes and rotated out every two months.  Which means ten of 12 months the toys sit quietly in the basement.  So, my frugal friends, I put myself in the position of the purchasers of said toys.  How sad and frustrated would I be if I worked hard to earn my pay cheque, took time away from my non working hours to find, buy and wrap a gift that would sit unused and unappreciated for the majority of its toy life? Very!

Of course there is always the benefit of teaching our children to give.  Our family believes in the values and goals of our local Community Care charity and they are so great to our children.  When we take the kids down with the food they collected at their birthday the Community Care volunteers treat them like mini celebrities. Everyone comes out to greet them, weigh the food and congratulate them on helping.  Then they take some photos of them next to the donations. A few weeks later we get a wonderful and personal letter from the charity thanking my son or daughter.   My kids come away feeling like giving back, being socially aware and helping how you can is fun, special and glamorous.

Additionally I love that we are teaching our children about how to celebrate without the commercial trappings.  It really is about the celebration.

That being said, making this change didn't go perfectly smoothly when we first announced our decision.  So partly to make peace and partly to maintain that certain element of childhood we do allow family to give a gift, but not at the birthday celebration.

I recognize for some the decision for no gifts may seem counter productive in my frugal lifestyle. After all, if my son gets a new pair of pants at his birthday wouldn't that give my budget a break instead of buying them?  My response is, in theory yes. But in practice what my kids get out of this experience is something I could never buy.

We feel this is the happiest medium between giving and getting for our family.  :)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Partying for less

My son just turned four.  Hosting a successful birthday for a four year old boy would be hard enough, doing it while maintaining our frugal lifestyle is a whole separate challenge.
First of all, Walter had to have a cowboy birthday. I learned quickly that the theme was simply not negotiable.
Secondly, I feel that it goes without saying (and yet here I am saying it) that you can get the most from a frugal lifestyle when you DIY as many projects as possible.  This philosophy has got me know in my circle of friends as "that one who crafts".
Finally, our children have birthday celebrations, not birthday parties. The only difference really being that we request no gifts.  We do understand that some people desire to mark the occasion with a token, which is why we collect non-perishable food items for our local food bank.  (More on this in a later post.)
Although I wouldn't change our birthday celebrations, they do present an additional challenge.  Take your average child's birthday. They are typically about two hours long with the large majority of the time spent eating pizza, then having cake followed by gift opening.  Remove the pizza, (I can explain) and the gift opening and I'm stuck trying to actively engage these children for the whole two hours. All on my grabd budget of $150!

i could have bought standard cowboy themed party invitations at the local party supply store. But at $7.95 for 8 it would have broke my frugal heart.  So instead, I dressed Walter in his cowboy attire, stood him against the wall and snapped a photo of him with the majority of the photo space being blank wall.  Then i uploaded the image to PicMonkey (GREAT free photo editing software online), turned the photo sepia and added the required text.  Since it was all done in a photo format i was able to send the image to Wal-Mart for processing and walked away very happy with my 20 cent custom party invitations,. Total coat $2.50

Our home is flat out not suitable for hosting 15 four year olds along with their parents indoors.  I'm so not the type for the fast food restaurant party, nor the movie cinema.  I love using our community center,  If i am forced to spend money, at least i know its a reasonable amount and its going back to support our community. Total cost for two hour rental of the large gym of the community center $65

This is where having a generic birthday, like cowboy, and not a licensed party, like Woody, really pays off. Keep it simple and stick to a two colour theme as best you can.  We went with brown and red. gold (because i could not get brown) and red balloons.   For the record, what i really wanted to do was get red and WHITE balloons and colour cow spots on the white ones with sharpie markers.    But That  Guy kept rolling his eyes at me every time I mentioned it.  *sigh* Can't win 'em all I guess.
Two red and white checked plastic table cloth from the local dollar store was just right for the food table and   the donation table.  The fabric store sells burlap from the bolt.  Two meters of that for $7, cut into table runners gave me four great runners.  One for the food table on top of the table cloth and one for each of the seating tables.
Centerpieces i kept simple and playful.  Literally. I picked up packages of plastic toy horses and other farm animals from the dollar store and grouped them together at the center of each table.

Finally was the western town. That Guy and I created a whole western town out of appliance boxes and some spray paint.  Okay, technically That Guy actually cut and painted all the boxes into a jail, bank, saloon, general store, a wagon wheel and a few cacti.... but I nagged for three months to get the job done.  So I view this as a 50/50 workload split. :)  The town was a huge hit and totally free!

Total decor cost $17


Dollar stores can be SUCH a great resource!  Each child received a cowboy hat, with a small thank you tag attached.  On each tag I also included a self adhesive mustache.  Total cost for guest favours $17

Let me explain the no pizza.  Pizza is actually not required at every party.  So often I am at children's birthdays where there is waaaayyy too much food.  And usually the item that tips the scales on this is ordering  three or four trays of pizza for a party for toddlers and a handful of parents.  The easiest way of avoiding the $50 cost on pizza? Host your party between 2-4.   Everyone has had lunch and is leaving well before dinner.
Food is one of our cultures social lubricants so I am not suggesting you serve nothing.  But there are alternatives.  We served pretzels, string cheese, water, juice boxes and a few theme related foods. I wanted to serve corn on the cob (totally western).  That Guy said no four year old is going to be drawn to corn.  So I did Candy Corn, off the cob instead.  I wanted to do baked beans.  That Guy just looked at me. (Really, he is very supportive! But hes also my reality check) So I did jelly beans instead,    I wanted to do roasted marshmallows.... lets just say I settled for un roasted marshmallows on a skewer.  Then, of course, i made small signs to explain my compromised clever- food choices.
In lieu of a cake we did some cactus cupcakes for all the kids to enjoy.
Total food cost $40

The westen town won hands down and was how the kids enjoyed spending the majority of their time.  I did also plan a few other activities though.  I spray painted some empty pop cans (tin cans would have worked better but I had way more empty Diet Coke cans than I did empty soup cans) silver and with a tennis ball it became s shooting gallery game.
I bought some favour sized bubbles from the dollar store (4/$1) and wrapped them in small balls of tin foil.  Spray painted gold  these became "gold nuggets"  that i hid around the room for the kids to find.
Finally I did my version of musical chairs.  Instead of chairs the same number of balloons as children, less one were thrown into the air.  When the music stopped the child who didnt catch a balloon was "out".
Total cost for games: $3 (for bubbles)

Total Birthday cost $144.50

Best of all, I was able to reach out to someone who was interested in hosting her own cowboy birthday for her son and pass on all the western party supplies and decor so it did not have to go to waste! :)

Monday, 5 November 2012

And So It Begins

I suppose my blog requires that initial "About Me" post, so here goes.
Just a few weeks ago I had my 29th birthday. I am very happily married to my husband of six years (henceforth known as "That Guy")  and together we have two beautiful children.  Our son, Walter, has just turned four and our daughter, Audrey, is 14 months old.
When Walter was ten months old we bought our first -and current- home and I decided to open my own home day care.
My day care is open ten and a half hours a day. My daily rate is $30/child.  Yes, you did the math correctly. I make just less than $3/hour/child.  Out of that profit (does that even qualify for the word "profit"?) comes the cost of feeding, entertaining and educating these children.  
My job, although being one of my proudest and most rewarding accomplishments, makes living on a dime an utter necessity.
That Guy is gain fully employed as a very talented pastry chef. (And by "gain fully" I mostly mean my waistline) It is fair to say that two incomes are required to keep this family afloat.

Enter me, three years ago with a brand new interest in and purpose for frugal living.  So even though parenting and day care are both full time jobs I view my commitment to our frugal lifestyle as another.

Through this novice blog I aim to share with you the journey of my lifestyle and the trials and errors (so many errors) along the way.