A Return to Frugal Living

Return to Frugal Living
“Stock Photography — Canadian Coins” by KMR Photography on Flickr

It’s been a wild ride over the last few years, and I have neglected my blog very badly. I’m so glad it is still here where I left it! Life has taken me in many different directions, down some fascinating paths, and I’ve ended up in a really wonderful place, for which I am so grateful.

I’m currently working part-time at the library, my partner is working at a non-profit within walking distance, the kids are happy at their school, and we are surrounded by family, friends and nature. And boy, have we summered hard this year! The kids agreed it has been the best summer in a long time, filled with swimming, camping, cousins, and even a quick trip to the water park!

Besides our great summer, I am also happy at work–happier than I have ever been in any other job, period. I love my job so much! It combines my life-long love affair with books, with my gifts of welcoming and service. Being part-time, it allows me to continue to spend a lot of time with the kids, and since they are in school, it means (at least from September to June) I can keep my house clean! That is something I still have not managed to figure out when the kids are home.

The other side of part-time work is the salary that goes with it. Work less -> earn less!

But I would rather this situation than a year ago when I was managing the Farmer’s Market, and then I got a full-time contract at Public Health, and THEN I got my part-time library gig! For a little while I did have three jobs, and while we pulled through, the stress took a toll on my health.

My Return to Frugal Living

One of my most useful skills has got to be my ability to “Buckle Down” when times get tough. When I am motivated–and when the need is there–I can cut spending down like no one’s business. My family kinda hates me for it, but I keep the bank accounts in the black, and I love learning more tips–for free of course!–for keeping our hard-earned money safe from overspending.

Unfortunately, to my eleven-year-old, there is nothing more eye-rollingly un-cool than a spending freeze.

Unfortunately for her, I find frugal living utterly fascinating–at least while I have to keep it up. The minute the need goes away, I usually collapse from the strain of it. But luckily while going through it, I am usually able to stay motivated to get through the tough time.

How Blogging Helps

When I first started this blog back in May, 2009, we were an apartment-living two-income family of three in Ottawa, Ontario. This blog helped me transition to the lower salary during my Maternity leave that October, and then it helped us move to living on just my partner’s salary. A couple of years later, I was able to carry out my dream of homeschooling my kids, and continuing as a one-income family.

Many pieces of luck came together, and we were able to move back to Sudbury (our hometown), and buy a house of our own. Here we have survived one-income living, job losses, appliance breakdown, as well as other transitions. While I haven’t been around much over the last few years, the skills I tested and honed on these pages have helped us achieve our dreams, and get the family through many financial ups and downs.

The Next Adventure

Right now I am days away from a really exciting time: getting to be a home-maker, and having time to write! If you read between the lines, you may understand that I am facing reduced hours at work, which requires us to tighten our belts once again.

But to be honest for a moment, beyond my current need to revisit my frugal ways, I have truly missed this space: for sharing ideas, inspiring others, and pushing my own skills and thinking beyond where they were before.

This Fall, I am planning to check in here more often, sharing my newest experiments in frugal living–bigger and weirder than ever before!–plus my insights into green and healthy living, parenting and being a person in this challenging and incredible world of ours.

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Frugal Daily: a newsletter update

So far I’ve sent 16 newsletters out–with one on the way in the morning!–and I’ve already received several emails from readers who are enjoying the tips! I hope I am inspiring people to clarify and make progress on their financial goals, or even just to tweak their lifestyle to be a bit more environmentally conscious.

My tips range from abstract to concrete, all with the aim to keep frugality on your radar as you start your day. If I can add a few tools to your toolbox along the way, that will be gratifying.

Remember: there are no affiliate links; I’m not selling anything; you can unsubscribe anytime; and it’s not about couponing. (Unless I write about why I don’t do couponing. That would be the only coupon-related post I would ever do.)

Making and Using Kefir

kefirAwhile ago a friend asked me for my tips on how I keep my milk kefir. I’ve had more failures than successes with kefir over the years, so I really understand where she’s coming from. To be honest, I think my current state of kefir success is due entirely to the luck of my current needs matching up with the process.

At the end of this article I have a tip sheet compiled from the info in the post–for those who are in a hurry, or familiar with kefir and just want the quick version!

What is kefir?

Let me back up for a moment and just review what in the world kefir actually is. There is a lot of lore around kefir, as with all of the various pass-along ferments such as kombucha, sourdough, “friendship bread”, and so on. Kefir, like kombucha, is made with a SCOBY–a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast–that lives and grows, in this case, in milk. The kefir SCOBY needs dairy milk to stay alive, but can apparently be switched between dairy and non-dairy milk for anyone who can tolerate some dairy but prefers to consume other milks, as long as it regularly spends some time in a dairy environment.

Like kombucha and yogurt, kefir is a source of probiotics, friendly bacteria that help our digestion, and other processes in our bodies. While the science around whether it is possible to permanently change our gut microbiome through ingesting probiotics is spotty, I have read evidence that shows ingesting probiotics does keep us healthier.

In taste, kefir is a little like yogurt, but with a “fresher”, “cleaner” taste. For myself, after years of enjoying yogurt, I don’t really enjoy kefir straight-up, but I use mine in smoothies and don’t notice a bit of difference.

Some people can react to the high probiotic count in homemade kefir. It is very fresh and has literally billions of healthy bacteria. I have read suggestions of starting with a tablespoon a day, and then increasing by tablespoon once you find you can tolerate it.

For myself, I find that having my kefir-based smoothie in the morning feels great, whereas the few times I’ve tried to have a smoothie for a snack later in the day, it has hurt my stomach. I don’t know the reason for this, but now that I’ve noticed the trend, I make sure to keep my kefir consumption to the morning only.

Kefir vs. Yogurt

So, if kefir is so similar to yogurt, why in the world should you switch to making kefir?

The answer is simple: as in, kefir is so simple to make. The kefir culture is mesophilic, which means that, unlike yogurt, the culture grows in the moderate temperatures of your countertop. The upshot? Making kefir doesn’t require a pot, thermometer, stove-top or warmer. It’s as simple as pouring and walking away.

And as you likely already know, making your own dairy-based probiotics is SO MUCH CHEAPER than buying them, either in food or pill form. My daily kefir only costs me about 38 cents, and it is a food source as well, not just a vitamin.

Also, when you make your own fermented dairy you eliminate the plastic packaging that most purchased yogurts and kefir drinks are sold in.

My Way with Kefir

I think this is the third or fourth time I’ve tried to make kefir work for me, and this time it is working! Here is what is working for me, and a few tips on what I’ve learned through my trials and errors.

The key to kefir success seems to lie using it on a regular daily basis. Unlike kombucha, a slower-fermenting SCOBY, kefir seems to be somewhat less resilient, and I notice it is much, much happier with a daily refreshing of milk.

From what I’ve read, this is also likely what keeps kefir safe, as with such regular switching to a clean container, and fresh clean milk, it seems to be much less likely to get contaminated than kombucha.

If you are going to be traveling and have to break your kefir routine, you can put your refreshed SCOBY in the fridge for a few days. I’ve been told the ratio is 1 tbsp kefir to 1 cup milk, and that should be fine for 1 week. I find that even leaving it and refrigerating for a day or two leaves my kefir sluggish; however, a few days of daily refreshing and use has always perked it back up.

Keep in mind this is an occasional lapse, within a regular daily use pattern: if you are not using it daily, you may not find success. I think that was my biggest problem in the past. That, and I tried to ferment too much milk with too few grains, not realizing the 1 tbsp to 1 cup ratio was the best.

Daily Routine

I keep my kefir in a mason jar on the counter, covered with a paper coffee filter secured with an elastic band. I make and use about a cup of kefir each day, using it in my morning smoothie.

Every morning I scoop the SCOBY from its current container into a clean mason jar with a plastic spoon, and pour a cup of fresh milk over it. I then pour the finished kefir from the original jar into my Magic Bullet jar for my smoothie. I use 2% local non-organic milk, but you can use any kind of dairy milk you prefer.

In this way, my SCOBY grows, and I’ve found once every couple of months or sooner I am able to split off a chunk to share with a friend. I love this culture sharing aspect of kefir, but if you are not inclined, the grains can be composted instead. I don’t have data on the safety of consuming them.

The ratio I was told when I got my grains was a tablespoon of SCOBY to a cup of milk. This ratio works well, but as the SCOBY grows, the fermentation speeds up. Warmer weather or a warmer environment also speeds up the fermentation. I have heard the word “overfermented” applied to kefir, but I don’t believe there is any problem or danger with consuming overfermented kefir. It does get more sour, and some people won’t like it, but in my smoothie I don’t really notice.

However, when I notice that my kefir is overfermenting in 24 hours, it tells me that my SCOBY has grown bigger than my needs, and it is time once again to share.

Kefir Tip Sheet

  • ratio is 1 tbsp SCOBY to 1 cup milk
  • kefir works best when refreshed every single day
  • when SCOBY doubles in size, you can split it off, give half away to a friend, and go back to your 1 tbsp to 1 cup ratio
  • you can refrigerate it in fresh milk for up to a week, though it will likely be sluggish for a few days
  • revive and re-invigorate your kefir with several days of daily refreshes
  • kefir may like higher-fat milk, so when dealing with sluggish kefir, a shot of cream may help to liven it up
  • use a fresh clean jar each day
  • cover with a breathable cover like a paper coffee filter secured with an elastic band, to keep out contaminants
  • if you are not used to kefir, start with 1 tbsp, and increase the next day, to see how your body tolerates it
  • I have found kefir can make me feel gross if I consume it later in the day, but in the morning it gives me no problems
  • Fermentation time is related to temperature. It will go faster in the warmer months, and slower in the cooler months.
  • in the cooler months it may benefit from being located near the stove
  • the warmer temperatures will also make the SCOBY grow faster
  • I’ve read that you should never touch your SCOBY with metal. However, stainless steel once in awhile shouldn’t be a problem. I do use a plastic spoon to scoop it out when I have one available.
  • there is a ton of kefir information out there on the internet. A good place to start is Cultures For Health.
  • It is more than likely you can find a source for a free SCOBY where you live. Try Google, CraigsList, Kijiji, Facebook, or word of mouth. There are also many folks who sell their grains, which can be great if you want a reliable source. Due to the fact that kefir seems to really like daily attention, I would try to find a local source rather than get one shipped through the mail, but there are several places that will guarantee their shipments.

Good luck everyone! And please let me know if you have any other tips, or any other questions about making kefir!

Frugal Daily: a near-daily newsletter for frugal tips

In order to keep myself on a frugal track to financial success, I’ve decided to experiment with writing a daily tip newsletter.

As a reader of my blog, you probably know I’m a former homeschooler. You probably also know that I’m still holding on to the dream of being able to homeschool again some time in the future. But to do that, first I have just one more loan to pay off! So, I figured I would help us both at the same time, by writing daily tips to keep everyone focused on our goals.

What this newsletter will be:

– a daily or near-daily email sent through MailChimp, containing one tip to live more frugally.
– easy to subscribe or unsubscribe to
– quick, short and useful
– mostly my own ideas, but I may occasionally link to really helpful online content

What this newsletter will not be:

– a channel for selling anything. Really. I’m not going to link to affiliates or bundles or email-grabbing “freebie deals”. I have a small readership, a full-time job, and a busy life. It isn’t really worth my while to try to make money that way at this time. If this ever changes, I will let you know, and you’ll have the chance to unsubscribe easy-peasy. This newsletter is just one more tool to keep me focused on my goals of paying off debt, saving money and making my dream a reality. Okay, if I ever write a book or create a course, I WILL let you know! But no third-party stuff for sale.
– a forever deal. If I get bored, I will stop writing it. And if I make my dream a reality and am able to start homeschooling again, I might not have time to keep up with frugality tips! You never know–but there are no guarantees!
– information about couponining

If you are interested in receiving these tips, please click here to sign up. It’s super easy: all you have to do is enter your email address. And you can unsubscribe easily too just in case you ever win the lottery!

Sign up for Frugal Daily!

A Quick Apology to my readers!

I accidentally bombarded you with some posts I added back into this old blog from my “new blog” which I am shutting down. Sorry I forgot to shut off my auto-notifications before doing that work everybody. Thanks for your loyal readership!

One Word for 2017

savor-tea-565x510

If you’ve been a reader for awhile, you know that I love New Year’s traditions! I love the idea of starting fresh, of re-focusing and re-energizing. One tradition I have carried forward for a few years now is choosing one word to summarize and bring focus to the goals one holds for the year ahead.

In 2011, my word was Focus.

In 2014, I chose three words: Create, Engage and Grace.

In 2015, my word was Revive.

And this year?

This year feels different. For the first year ever, I really didn’t have anything I was wanting or craving for Christmas or my birthday. What I wanted most of all, was to spend time with my family and friends doing simple seasonal things like sliding, singing carols and making cookies. I was blessed to give and receive some lovely gifts, but it was the get-togethers, and the calm times at home that I will remember.

This past year I’ve come across study after study showing how the practice of holding on to good thoughts, experiences, tastes and even memories, can increase people’s joy and happiness. The very concept here is deep and powerful. Its very nature begs a thoughtful and studied response.

And so, my word for 2017 is Savour.

I love this word, and I love the sense of grateful anticipation that it brings me. Grateful anticipation might seem like an expression that’s looking both forward and backwards, but what I am talking about looking forward to practicing gratitude for all the small gifts each day brings. I don’t take them for granted, but I do know there are a thousand things to be grateful for in each day we live.

Savouring and gratitude are clearly linked, but savouring seems even more joyful, murmuring for us to snuggle deeper into our experiences, breath in the aromas, hug a little longer–and end with a promise of savouring again, in delicious memories. The more we savour the moment, the longer and more clearly it lives inside us.

Savouring brings us inside the moment as we mindfully deepen our awareness of what is happening NOW. It is definitely a mindfulness meditation practice. And in this way it is also a prayer, a turning toward and appreciating the gifts that are given bountifully each day.

Savouring combats worrying, the negative headspace I too often find myself in. Worrying is about the future or the past, while savouring brings us into the positive stuff going on in the present moment. I’ve read–and experience tells me this is true!–that you can’t end a negative thought pattern or habit without replacing it with a positive one: I will aim to replace my worrying with savouring whenever I catch myself.

Savouring is also frugal, as it adds to the value to whatever we are doing. We are doing something nice, and we are aware that we are doing something nice. We are building a conscious memory that we can turn to again and again, so the experience goes deeper, and lasts longer, than if we just sail on through. Sure, the ticket costs the same, but each time we savour the memory–of that meal, that holiday, that moment of laughter shared with a friend–we get more and more value from that experience. Savouring each experience fully leads us away from mindless consumption, saving money and resources in the long run.

Now I know that I am not going to suddenly enter into a permanent state of rapture, savouring each second of being alive. Some things we just have to get through. And really, it can be mentally exhausting to be fully present in each moment! But I look forward to returning again and again to the present moment, and finding new ways to savour the tastes, aromas, sensations and experiences that I may be blessed with in 2017.

Got Debt? #SpenditDown

money-wallet-by-401k-2012-modified

A few weeks ago I shared my “Five Tricks for Painless Debt Payoff“. Right after posting it, I put the tricks to use here at home. I quickly found out that one of those tricks stood out for me above all others. It has led me to pay off hundreds of dollars of our debt this month, putting us ahead of our expected freedom date, and saving us significant amounts of interest.

The surprisingly useful trick was #3:

Whenever you decide not to make a purchase, immediately take that amount and put it towards the debt.

Or as we’ve come to call it, #SpenditDown.

What we’ve discovered is, the effect of SpendingitDown actually carries the same feeling of momentary euphoria that buying something does, with the added bonus of improving our financial situation.

How does it work? It’s really easy. Every time you are about to buy something “extra”, stop, figure out what you almost spent, and immediately put that amount toward your debt. Then high-five the nearest person.

For example:

  • Tempted to order pizza? Make home-made, take $25 and #SpenditDown.
  • About to stop at Bulk Barn for a post-library treat? Go home and eat chocolate chips, take $15 and #SpenditDown.
  • Longing for a fancy bar of soap? Use up what you’ve got in the cupboard, take $6 and #SpenditDown.

You may have to try it to believe it, but it’s actually fun for the whole family! The kids were thrilled that I let them #SpenditDown after we opted for home-made popcorn instead of making a trip to the corner store for chips. I logged into my online banking, my little guy dutifully typed in $5, and I invited him to hit enter. When it was my daughter’s turn, she looked up with a twinkle in her eye, typed in 1-5, and hit enter. Really, it was more fun than an extra toy at the second-hand store.

One day we opted against another corner store trip, and my son asked in his sweet 7-year-old voice, “Mommy, can I Spend it Down?”

I think the success of this method is that it gives a reason and a framework for diverting funds towards paying off debt. You don’t even realize how much extra you’re spending until you start playing the game. It disrupts automatic habits of spending, while actually making you feel *good* instead of guilty, and at the same time, making progress toward debt freedom.

Without a reason and a framework, you will always tell yourself, “We will just put all our extra money toward our debt.” The problem is, in reality,

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EXTRA MONEY!

When it comes to the end of the month, if you’re anything like me, there’s never much extra left over, and if there is, it’s hard to justify putting it toward debt when “you never know if you might need it”.

By playing the game, you have a chance every day to put extra funds towards your debt.

So, we’ve been having a lot of fun with this. The surprising thing was, when I did my big Debt Repayment Round-Up, I only saw this method mentioned in one or two articles.

The world needs to learn how to #SpenditDown! Will you help me by posting when you decide to #SpenditDown? You can link back to this post so people know what you’re talking about, and help me inspire a revolution of debt freedom!