I have long been a fan of small actions that create multiple benefits. Things that are both frugal and healthy, for example, or that both save money and have less of an environmental burden. I have realized one of our daily habits has not one—not two—not even three benefits—This action has four amazing benefits and I’m going to tell uou about it right now.
Long story short: no it is not possible to spend just $400 per month on groceries. Not for a family of four. Not in Northern Ontario, in the winter. Not while eating a healthy diet. And certainly not while working full time.
I feel a bit bad about leaving you on that cliffhanger, as it became evident very quickly that my ambitious grocery savings goals were a bit over-the-top.
I think I can account for my bills being super low that month by the fact that the kids went away to camp for 4 days, and we also probably ate a lot out of our pantry. It was definitely not a “normal” month, and that record low grocery spending did not continue past September of last year.
One major thing that changed was that I started a full-time contract in November which goes till mid-May. Working full-time means having less time at home–especially less solo time–which means much less time for cooking and baking, especially time-consuming things like tortillas and crackers. Because of this, I’ve been buying a few more convenience foods, and the kids have been eating more cereal!
The up-side is that our overall income has gone up significantly for these few months! Because of our awesome financial skills, we’ve been able to save a good chunk of cash, and we are just days away from paying off our car in full! This will leave us debt-free apart from our mortgage, and we can start saving for a summer vacation, and for some upcoming house repairs.
This is a real dream come true, to pay off our car. Now we are looking at saving up an emergency fund, investing more in the kids’ education plans, and putting some money aside for a future car.
It is a complicated shift in mindset for me, to move from the urgent sense of paying off debt, into a perspective of saving for the future. I have never been very good at this side of things, and have relied in many ways, on the shame and stress of being in debt to kick me in the butt and provide me with the energy to meet my goals. It isn’t being very kind to myself, but it has worked!
Part of me is worried that switching the stick for a carrot will leave me short on motivation. I worry about my ability to keep reaching toward these more positive goals that are more than many people are within reach of.
I also realize–in terms of this blog–that the narrative of “I am saving up for a comfortable future” is much less appealing than “I am working hard to get out of debt”. I see the privilege that is behind that narrative and I wonder if the next part of this story really needs to be told.
I remember back when I lived in Ottawa, I had a very frugal friend. We shared many tips on frugal and eco-conscious living, trading cultures and shopping strategies. I felt a lot of kinship with her — until I visited her home. She not only owned her own home in an expensive part of town; she also owned a rental property! I felt my feelings of kinship diminish, and a sense of resentment creep in. Here I was busting my butt just to afford to feed my family, and she was using these frugal skills to build her investments?? What a betrayal! I soon got over my reaction to her apparent wealth (and reminded myself that one never knows what’s going on behind the surface) and our friendship continued for several years. She did have good frugal tips to share!
But I don’t want to do that to you, my readers! Lure you in with perceived struggling kinship only to reveal that I’m actually out of debt and slowly building my own wealth.
And yet, I do want to give anyone reading who is in that difficult place, that place of scraping by, a concrete sense of hope. Hope that if you keep going, if you keep saving and getting smarter and paying off debt, you have a good chance of reaching a place of stability. There are no guarantees in this life: health problems can drop in out of nowhere, moving to another city can erase years of progress, job losses and babies and investing in education, these can all set us back.
But the frugal skills we learn are a kind of insurance because they can help keep us stable through crises, changes and stages of life. And once we have weathered those storms, we will have the luxury of a bit of choice around what to reach for next.
I’m back to making our family’s bread on a regular basis. It saves us at least $7 per week or more, and is much tastier than anything we can buy. On second thought, I think making good bread saves much more than the cost of bread, since my family is more likely to choose a fresh slice of yummy fresh bread than a more expensive snack like boxed cereal. Plus, my kids really love “Mommy Bread”, and it makes my heart swell to hear them say so!
With cooler Fall weather coming our way, making bread is also a lovely way to heat up the house and create that homey feeling that seems to define the season.
My current fave recipe is kinda healthy, and very easy. It’s the Good Whisk Bread recipe from Wildly Affordable Organic by Linda Watson (with only a couple of modifications that I’ll tell you about below!). Linda has made two videos (first part here, second part here) demonstrating the process for making and then shaping this bread, which really takes the guess-work out–especially for the shaping bit!
What I love about this recipe is that it gets great flavour with a super simple recipe that requires very little hands-on time. It makes two small loaves, which I have been slicing right after baking, and putting in the freezer to last the week. It makes very flavourful toast and cheese sandwiches. My daughter loves when I make her a toasted cheese sandwich in the morning for her lunch (she calls it a “Cheese-a-roo”), and I love having a tomato sandwich for lunch, with mayo, cheese, and a pickle!
The original recipe recommends white whole wheat flour, and 1/2 cup of untoasted wheat germ along with the first mix. I don’t have either of these things, so I have just been using the freshly ground Redeemer whole wheat flour that I have, and not bothering with the wheat germ, though I suppose I could add in 1/2 cup of home-ground oat flour or some other add-in. I have also reduced the salt from 1 tbsp to 2 1/2 tsp, as I found it a bit too salty at the higher amount.
(by Linda Watson, from Wildly Affordable Organic)
2 1/2 cups (300 g) whole wheat flour, sifted
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (or one package)
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp (21 g) honey or other sweetener (maple syrup or agavé for a vegan choice)
3 cups warm water
4 cups (480 g) all-purpose unbleached flour
Combine whole wheat flour, yeast, salt and sweetener. Add 2 cups of the water and whisk swiftly for one minute. This starts to develop the gluten to give a better rise in the final bread.
Add the last cup of water and the 4 cups of unbleached flour, and mix vigorously and thoroughly to combine. The dough will be sticky and quite wet.
Cover with a lid and let rise on a counter for 1 to 5 hours, then refrigerate overnight or longer (up to 2 weeks). I find a good flavour develops at 2 days).
On baking day, remove the dough from the fridge and divide and shape into two loaves. This video shows how to divide and shape the loaves. They will be quite wet, but still should form a nice shape in a loaf pan.
Whereas Linda uses a greased nonstick pan, I prefer to line my loaf pans with parchment paper which easily peels away from the finished loaves. I find mine need to rise for at least 3 hours. I prepare my oven with the loaves on the middle rack, and a pan of boiling water underneath for warmth and humidity.
I also find mine need a longer bake at a higher temperature (though maybe a longer rise would correct this somewhat). The last loaves I made baked for at least an hour at 400ºF. The internal temperature should reach 205ºF.
Allow to cool completely, and then either keep at room temperature or slice and place in the freezer to maintain freshness.
I’ve used my Amazon Affiliate link–but I have no expectation of ever making a dime off such a thing. I am completely willing to be surprised, however, if you want to order this great book. You won’t be disappointed.
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.)
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!
Happy Monday morning folks!
On my way to work today I had a happy encounter with a man named Trenton. He’s a cancer survivor, and he asked me about my green smoothie. Trenton is working out to get fit, along with his 17yo son. He totally made my day when he asked me for my smoothie recipe, so I told him I’d blog it just for him! Here you go Trenton, this is for you!
a handful of strawberries (or other sweet fruit: apple, grapes, pear all work well)
1 cup kefir (could use yogurt)
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp flax seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp coconut oil
large handful chopped kale
water up to “max” line on Bullet, or enough water to make it liquidy
Blend, and enjoy!
I’ve been drinking this smoothie daily for the last few months, and I really love it. Here are some notes about the ingredients.
Bananas: This smoothie is best if some of the ingredients are frozen when you make it. I’ve had good luck with breaking up a bunch of bananas and freezing them on a tray, then storing the chunks in a baggie in the freezer. This makes for a nice cold smoothie, and allows you to take just the right amount of banana.
Strawberries: I like to use frozen sliced strawberries. I can get a nice big bag of organic ones from Costco for a much better price than the grocery store. This is something you can grow, but it takes a lot of area to grow a sizeable strawberry crop. I was also lucky to go strawberry picking in the early summer, so I kept back a few from that adventure for my smoothies (So delicious!!).
Kale: I grew a nice crop of kale this summer, so I was able to enjoy *Really* local kale for my smoothies! You can buy a big bag of chopped kale and throw it in the freezer for ready access through the week.
Kefir: I have been making my own kefir! Stay tuned for more on that!
Chia seeds: Chia seeds have a very high amount of Omega 3, and very low Omega 6, very good for the brain. Chia seeds get really thick once they’re blended up and mixed with a liquid, so you might have to adjust your quantities of chia and water to get a thickness you like. Too much chia or too little water, and you get something more like pudding, which is a little hard to drink. I like to put the seeds in after I add my kefir. If you put them in the bottom or over the bananas, they sometimes stick to the bottom of the cup, and miss out on the smoothie party.
Flax seeds: These are another good source of Omega 3s, and a good source of fibre.
Turmeric and Cinnamon: These are both touted as cancer-fighting ingredients, and they give the smoothie a nice flavour. Cinnamon can also add an impression of “sweetness” without added sugar.
Coconut Oil: Another healthy fat, which emulsifies and adds richness and a creamy mouthfeel. Coconut oil can also help to make fat-soluble vitamins available to your body. In the summer, when your coconut oil is liquid, try to add it to the top, otherwise it might harden onto the side of the cup and never make it into your smoothie. When it is hard in the cooler months, I like to layer it in with the seeds so it doesn’t stick to the blades.
I blogged about my Nutribullet just the other day. Well, this is the smoothie I’ve been making with it.
I’d love to hear other recipes, and your ingredient tips too! Let me know what you think in the comments!
I have heard over and over again that our inability to sit with discomfort is at the root of most dissatisfaction and anxiety. It causes addictions, ruins relationships, and leads to a lot of instability. How many of your decisions are made based on a desire to avoid pain, rejection, boredom, desperation or other discomfort? How would your life be different if you made decisions based on your values, or on the impact they would have on the earth, or on your loved ones?
I know my life would be vastly different. And these questions aren’t meant to judge you, because we ALL seek pleasure and avoid pain. We aren’t robots or monks (I’m assuming? I can’t imagine robots or monks would be interested in reading my blog!); pain, boredom and conflict will eventually *get* to us, and we will try to shift away.
What I hope for, in my life, and in my kids’ lives, is the ability in the millisecond before making that shift, to be able to make a choice. There isn’t a lot of room there, between the burn and the flinch, between the perceived insult and the angry yell.
With meditation, we get to create a space
We can either choose to yell or maybe to take a deep breath instead and take a break, walk away, have a drink of water or look at a tree for a few minutes before coming back to the conversation. The space we create can allow us to choose our values.
When we meditate, we see all sorts of things pass by on the screen of our mind. They seem very important, until we say “Hmm” and let go and return to our breath. Letting go, over and over and over again, shows us that we CAN let go. And so, over time, we create a space where we can choose to let go.
Studies have shown that meditating actually causes changes in our brains, de-escalating emotions, and actually reducing pain. How remarkable! We can actually reduce our pain by learning to sit with pain. It turns out that what really increases our pain is the feeling, the belief, that we can’t handle it. When we bring compassion to our pain, it reduces the hurt. And all this can come from just sitting and breathing.
A simple practice
I’ve had an on-again-off-again meditation practice for over a decade, and what I love about meditating–most of which I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh–is its simplicity: Get comfortable. Set a timer. Breathe. Focus on your breathing. When your thoughts wander, let those thoughts go, and return your focus to your breathing. That’s it. No special position, just get comfortable. No special words; no words at all. So simple you can do it anywhere.
I have tried a few different meditation apps over the past year, but I hadn’t found one I liked until I tried One MomentMeditation. Many of them had music, guiding text or swirling colours. OMM has nothing fancy: just a timer for one minute, plus an optional warm-up and cool-down.
What I love about it is that it is almost impossible NOT to meditate with this app. Just one minute? How can you say no? And yet, even one minute seems like a deliciously long break in the middle of a stressful work day.
Even in one single minute we can learn how to bring compassion to our discomfort, boredom and pain. Even one minute a day can help reduce our pain, our anger and our sadness.
Even one minute can create space for us to choose our values.
I have no affiliation with One Moment Meditation. This is an honest review for which I have not received, nor do I anticipate receiving any compensation. I did include a couple of Amazon Affiliate links; however, I encourage you to look for the linked books in your local library.