And then there’s the breastfeeding

The other day I wrote about my many frugality failures, and a few of my wins, over the last month or so, leading up to and following the birth of our son. One key thing I forgot to mention–probably because it is already so much a part of my life–is the breastfeeding.

From a frugality standpoint, there is no question that breastfeeding is the best choice for feeding your baby. No powders to buy, no bottles to buy & sanitize, no containers to throw away, no water to heat, and it’s often a fantastically effortless way to lose the weight you put on during pregnancy. What a miracle worker that Mother Nature is to design such an elegant system!

But there are also benefits for my nursing daughter who turned 2 1/2 just before Nicholas was born.

Having “mokies” calms her when she’s having a meltdown; it puts her to sleep, and back to sleep in the middle of the night; it allows us to keep our physical closeness, even when the new baby is attached to my body for 90% of the day; and most of all, I can see it helping her to start bonding with the little guy as her little hand (big in comparison to his) plays with his foot, strokes his belly, holds his hand.

While this isn’t strictly about frugality, continuing to nurse my girl is helping me keep things together in these crazy newborn days. And that is a cornerstone of keeping the house running well.

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What’s your Walkscore?

walk_signWhile cruising through my Blogroll one day, I ended up on One Green Generation, which had a link to a fascinating site called Walkscore.com.

Basically, it uses Google Maps to calculate your distance from important amenities like grocery stores, libraries, parks, restaurants, cinemas, etc. to give your neighbourhood a certain score based on proximity.  The higher the score, the less need you have for a car.

Our score in Centretown Ottawa? 93/100 (woo hoo!)

Our two old places in Toronto: 83 and 77 respectively

My parents’ place in Sudbury: 53

The house I grew up in: 10 out of 100

Interestingly, every move I’ve ever made has brought me to a more walkable location! (Well, except for my year in Montreal but we won’t count that.) Though I often dream about farm life, walkability is something I really value and would find it a major adjustment to live without. In fact, I think it’s a key component of my being frugal and urban!

So, what’s the deal with walkability?  The website gives a few points:

Walkable neighborhoods offer surprising benefits to our health, the environment, and our communities.

Better health: A study in Washington State found that the average resident of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood weighs 7 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.1 Residents of walkable neighborhoods drive less and suffer fewer car accidents, a leading cause of death between the ages of 15–45.

Reduction in greenhouse gas: Cars are a leading cause of global warming. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines.

More transportation options: Compact neighborhoods tend to have higher population density, which leads to more public transportation options and bicycle infrastructure. Not only is taking the bus cheaper than driving, but riding a bus is ten times safer than driving a car!2

Increased social capital: Walking increases social capital by promoting face-to-face interaction with your neighbors. Studies have shown that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10%.3

Stronger local businesses: Dense, walkable neighborhoods provide local businesses with the foot traffic they need to thrive. It’s easier for pedestrians to shop at many stores on one trip, since they don’t need to drive between destinations.

I would agree with all these points, and would also add that being able to walk to work (something possible in Centretown Ottawa) means having more time to spend at home with the kids. My “commute” is less than 5 minutes door-to-door, which means I maximize the time I can spend with my daughter instead of sitting in traffic. Same goes for my husband, whose “commute” is about double mine.

Another thing I’ve noticed in my years living in walkable neighbourhoods is that where people can walk, they do, and the fact that there are people out walking around, usually at all hours of the day & night, greatly increases the safety of neighbourhoods. Jane Jacobs calls this “eyes on the street”. The more mixed use and pedestrian traffic a neighbourhood has, the less crime tends to exist in a place. In fact, many parks in dense urban neighbourhoods are actually safer than suburban parks at night, simply because there are more people strolling around.

Finally, having a car would mean greatly increasing our cost of living since we would not only have to worry about the car (and most likely a car loan), but also the insurance, gas, maintenence and repairs that go along with car ownership. Not to mention an automatic $100/month just to park the thing!

I found this website really fun, and as you can see, used it to check out all the places I’ve ever lived. I would definitely use this when choosing our next apartment or house.

My “frugal” workout

IMG_0522Well, okay, my workout isn’t all that frugal: I work out with my Wii Fit.  Sure, after the initial purchase, it costs me zero in terms of commute time, extra equipment, special clothes, memberships, etc., but that initial purchase . . . let’s just say we’re still paying it off!

If my partner and I were both using it regularly, we could say it was replacing a gym membership for both of us which would make sense financially, but at the moment it’s just me.  In any case, we bought the thing so it makes sense to use it.

But what about some other frugal workout options?  I suppose the ideal would be that our lifestyles would be healthy and active enough that we wouldn’t need to take out a gym membership.  Or even better, a day job that used your body and kept it healthy: some jobs that spring to mind are letter carrier, bike courier, farmer, sanitation engineer, gym instructor/personal trainer . . . even teachers, on their feet all day, get a work-out as they work.

But for those of us with desk jobs, it feels good to move the body after a long day of hard sitting.  But what are our most frugal options?

Many of my friends love jogging.  The arguments for it: you don’t need fancy clothes or a membership, and there is no extra travel time or time spent showering to factor in.  You do need good shoes for jogging, and there are many clothes and gadgets you can buy to make your jog more expensive (like a thingy that synchs up to your iPod Touch that records your distance and calories burned which you can then upload to a Nike website to compete compare with other people).  But if you just want a cheap and amazingly efficient workout, jogging is one of the best.

I’ve never been a jogger, but one thing I love is swimming.  It works out the whole body with very little impact on the joints.  The trick here is finding a pool with a monthly or multi-session pass that isn’t too expensive.  In my neighbourhood, there’s Jack Purcell (which is actually too warm for lap swimming), University of Ottawa which has very good prices, but the best deal may be the Cartier Suites Hotel.  You can get access to their pool, sauna, hot tub and work out room, all for only $25 per month!  It’s a pretty amazing deal; the only catch is it only runs from the 1st to the end of the month so you can’t start mid-month.  But this is a deal many of my neighbours take advantage of.

There is also a new website called Fit-In 15 that encourages people to do just 15 minutes of exercise per day.  They have sample exercises and suggestions for working a simple exercise regime into your day.  This is great for people who don’t have a big chunk of time to dedicate to working out, but would like to fit in exercise a few minutes here and there throughout the day.  The exercises are not new, but what’s wrong with that?

You might think that the Wii Fit has some amazing trick to make your workout “fun”.  There are the “balance games” but those aren’t real exercise.  The core of Wii Fit is a selection of simple classic exercises that a virtual trainer leads you through. Exercises like torso twists, sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, squats, as well as a variety of yoga poses that stretch and strengthen different parts of the body.

These are exercises people have been using for generations to tone their bodies in high schools, army boot camps and cheerleader training.  If you have decent technique and perhaps a book or website to suggest smart combinations, you could do a thorough workout in your own living room, no shirt, no shoes, no service fees.  You don’t really need a balance board or a cartoon lady in a blue room to lead you through a set of 20 sit-ups.

The trick with any of these workouts is motivation, and that is a topic for another day.