My Frugal Habits that have Stood the Test of Time

Our ever-blooming orchid

I’m going to start this post with a confession: I’m not actually very frugal.

Not really, not at heart.

For instance, we just bought a new (to us) vehicle, on credit, and it’s a gas-guzzling mini-van.

Percentage of trips with more than one human inside: approximately 1%.

It seemed to make sense at the time, and yes, it does make shopping at Costco easier, but the number of times we’ve actually needed a mini-van to do what we were doing is a bare fraction. Live & learn, I guess, plus we’ve been driving a lot less!

Essentially, I’ve learned that I’m frugal when I have to be, cheap about things that make me anxious, and a 100% middle-class suburban mom when it comes to a few things. Like the mini-van.

I’m in no way “all-frugal-all-the-time” — I’m not even going to tell you about all the ice cream we eat or just how many Amazon boxes landed on our porch in December — but there ARE a handful of habits I’ve held on to since the earliest days of this blog when we were living on a single income and I was a stay-at-home mom. These are my stand-bys, saving us a few dollars here and there, making it possible for us to have adventures — whenever we can go back out into the world again.


#1. Making my own yogurt

As I type this, I’ve got a pot with 3 litres of milk on the stove, slowly heating up to 180 degrees. Once it gets there, I’ll turn it off and let it cool to 120 with the lid on, stir in a quarter cup of last week’s yogurt from the fridge, pour it into glass jars which I’ll put in my instant pot, fill with hot tap water, and let sit for 6 hours. It’s that easy! It saves a ton of money and a load of plastic containers, and it guarantees that my kids have a healthy, probiotic snack all week. We use it in smoothies, with granola, stirred into oatmeal, and in mini mason jars every day in their school lunches, flavoured with some local maple syrup. As I’ve observed before, having frugal healthy snacks and ingredients available means the kids will choose those options more often.

I’ll teach you how if you ever want to learn!

#2. YNAB

I can honestly say, the budget app YNAB saves me thousands of dollars every year.

I don’t get anything out of promoting it here–no kick-backs, fees, pats on the back, nothing. I just truly believe this budgeting software is awesome! I’ve never tried any other one, so I can’t compare. It’s possible that using ANY budgeting app might be just as good, but since I’ve only tried this one, I will recommend it ūüôā

I’ve been subscribing for a few years and in that time, I’ve gone through periods of using it and periods of letting it slide. The times of letting it slide, that’s when I’ve gotten into trouble financially, even when our income went up.

The trick I’ve found is spending just a few minutes with my budget every day. This January 1, I started tending my budget first thing every morning, and it has been hugely rewarding. It just gives me much more control over where we are spending our money, by encouraging me to set aside the amounts for all the upcoming bills I know we’re going to have. So every paycheque, I slot a certain amount into the mortgage line, a certain amount for groceries, electricity, water bill, internet, cell phones, etc., etc.

This way, I know when I have extra money. I know that if I overspend in one category or have an unexpected expense, that it has to come out of another category. It allows me to react sensibly to the curve-balls, and really enjoy when we have any extra.

I can also use it to track things like back-to-school expenses, or how much that little weekend visit to Ottawa costs, so I can budget for those things in advance instead of being surprised by them.

The other benefit it has is providing a neutral place for my partner and I to talk about money. I can show him where we’re at, and we can figure out together where we want to be, then work out goals together, and track our progress. It’s taken a lot of the emotion and guess-work out of our money talks, and helped us get into alignment with one another.

#3. Drinking tap water

This one is very un-exciting, but it is healthy, frugal and environmentally sustainable. A great triple-hitter.

We are lucky to have a great-tasting, safe water supply, so it is an easy choice to make for us. My daughter and I are constantly refilling our water bottles, while my partner and son prefer Bubly . . . Not the most frugal choice, but it could be worse!

#4. Hanging most of our clothes up to dry

While I do use the dryer for our linens, I still hang up our clothes to dry. It takes a few minutes in the evening to hang it up on our folding drying racks, but usually my partner and I do it together, so it’s a pleasant little part of our evening routine. I’ve read that it reduces wear and tear on our clothes, and it uses much less energy than the dryer, even though we use the ceiling fan to help things along.

It’s even nicer once the sun gets warm enough because then our clothes come in smelling wonderful and outsidey: better than any perfumed laundry additive! While I would love a laundry line, our yard doesn’t offer a great solution for that, so I just bring our drying racks outside and place them in the sunniest spot on the lawn. It gets me outside for a few minutes of peaceful, quiet alone time. It’s really serene — now I really can’t wait for spring!

#5. Staying put in our “starter home”

We’ve contemplated moving so many times since landing here. Wanting something closer to my sister, or closer to the lake, or in a fancier neighbourhood or a cooler house. But something has kept us here every time.

Our house is nowhere near perfect, but the truth is, there’s nowhere that’s perfect! There will always be pros and cons, but the sticking point for us is that this house is pretty cheap. We’re getting to the half-way point of paying down our mortgage by now, and it is really hard to contemplate making that number bigger instead of smaller. Plus, from here we can both walk to work, which saves us thousands per year on parking, gas, wear and tear, and only needing one vehicle.

Moreover, our expenses here are pretty predictable. We know what our bills will be month to month. And, we can see most of the problems coming down the road, so we can make a plan to deal with them.

I have another, very selfish reason: in this house I have my own little room where I do school work, yoga and writing. A precious space all my own where I can close the door and be myself. It’s hard to find four-bedroom houses in our price range, and I am very reluctant to give up this luxury!

I’m not saying we’ll never move, but for now we’re deciding that this mess is our mess, and in this mess we’ll stay.

#6. Cooking meals at home

A lot of this blog has been dedicated to cooking, recipes and shopping smart. Even in this busy season, we cook most of our own meals, though when we’ve had more money we’ve eaten out a bit more and tried to support small, local restaurants that we value for bringing delicious variety to our city’s culinary landscape.

We have a few simple staples that we rotate, like spaghetti sauce and chili, that we get a few meals out of, plus other favourites that we repeat often. My partner and I do a very loose meal plan on Sunday before grocery shopping so we have an idea of what we will eat that week, plus we keep certain staples on hand so we can throw together a healthy-ish “emergency” meal at a moment’s notice if need be.

#7. Eating more veggie meals

We’ve been eating less and less meat, and choosing mostly local, grass-fed when we do eat meat. Not that we never have a burger or a sausage, but for us, adding more veggie meals to our repertoire works a lot better than cutting out meat entirely.

For instance, we’ve learned that the kids like Red Thai Veggie Curry (with butter instead of coconut oil), and they like Butternut Squash Soup and even Beet Soup. A couple of their favourites — mac & cheese, and perogies — are simple and meat-free, and we’ll occasionally make a vegetarian burrito bar with scrambled egg, refried beans, tomatoes, cilantro, salsa and cheese. We’ve recently fallen in love with breaded baked cauliflower bites which are made even better dipped in the best thing in the world: Sriracha mayo!

One thing I’ve done to make it easier for us to choose veggie more often is to make a list of all the vegetarian dishes we all like, and put it into a shared note with my partner. Every Sunday before grocery shopping, we take a look at the list and choose a few of those options that sound good and we haven’t had for awhile. This helps us remember all the vegetarian things we love, and it’s really working to keep our meat consumption low, without missing it at all.

#8. Walking

It’s my frugal workout. It’s my transportation to work and back. It’s my personal and couples therapy. It’s my favourite date and best hang-out activity. Yes, sometimes I’ll even drive to my hike, but I do a lot of walking around my neighbourhood too.

Last fall, the kids, their cousins, my sister and I hiked the 10K at the Conservation Area. I can’t even tell you how much fun it was! We saw all these gorgeous, hidden vistas, and the feeling of triumph when we got to the 10 of 10 kilometres was absolutely incredible. We made some amazing memories that day, and the kids learned that they can do hard things.

Maybe some day I’ll take my walking into the back country with a tent, sleeping pad and ziplock baggies of dehydrated food on my back, but for now I am content to stick to exploring our local vistas with a day pack, water bottle and some home-made cookies.


There you have it! 8 frugal habits that are still saving us money, keeping us healthy, and reducing our environmental footprint just a little. Helps me feel less guilty for the mini-van!

None of these things are going to make us millionaires — and that’s not really my goal here — but like a rudder in a boat, they help to keep us stable and on course.

These are the ones that are here to stay.

I would love to hear what frugal habits have stayed with you through the years. Let me know in the comments!

One Ton of Mayo

According to a friend, we’ve made what constitutes “a typical Costco miscalculation”. The exact size of the miscalculation: 1.8 L. Of Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

This means:

100 toasted tomato sandwiches, or . . .

7.5 chocolate cakes, or . . .

30 hair treatments, or . . .

15 each tuna, salmon and egg salads, or . . .

. . .  what else?

I’ll admit it: I have been making a lot of “Emergency Chocolate Cake” (my own cupcake version with chocolate chips), but this stuff expires in April of this year, and I don’t know if I can make enough cakes by then!

So, the question: what would you do with one ton of mayo? Or 1.8 L of the stuff, to be exact. Any ideas I’m missing for fabulous uses for mayo?

I’m back!

So sorry about the long absence, my loyal readers, but there have been some things keeping me busy these last few weeks. Number one is the arrival of number two: our adorable new baby, Nicholas. He was born at home after just over 2 1/2 hours of intense labour on Oct 3, the night of the full moon. We had some marvellous grandma care for more than a week afterwards, and are just now on our own–the four of us–to figure out how life has changed with Nicky’s arrival.

Before the birth, I had a terrible cold that laid me up for over 2 1/2 weeks, and which included a sinus infection and a pulled chest muscle–from coughing! How wimpy is that?! But the baby kindly waited until all was healed to make his arrival, thank goodness.

In other words, I haven’t had much time or energy for blogging these last few weeks. But now that things are more or less settled, I’ve been feeling the urge to fill you in about how our frugality collapsed over these last few crazy weeks.

First of all, when I got sick I basically stopped planning meals, which meant every day at around 4 pm we’d ask, “What’s for dinner?” and frantically rush out to Hartmann’s to buy ingredients, or, grab the phone and order a pizza. We had some wonderful help though–my sister-in-law made us a scrumptious dinner of risotto one night and brought it over, and my mom made quite a number of dinners (she came a few days before my due date, and stayed on for nearly a week after Nicky was born–six days late!), including a fantastic huge stew and a delicious mac & cheese, each of which lasted us more than 2 dinners.

I’ve cooked dinner the last two nights though, which has made me feel so good–like I’m really back on track and fully recovered (despite still wearing clothes that are as close to pajamas as clothes can get, and not venturing more than a few blocks from my house). I’m thinking I’ll do a meal plan for the rest of this week and see how that works out.

Another failing point was my cloth tissues and cloth wipes: during my cold, and especially during my sinus infection, I blew my way through about 7 boxes of tissues that I had previously picked up at Costco. The cloth supply just couldn’t keep up with my tap of a nose, but I still stand by them for day-to-day use.

Also, I haven’t been making bread. The bread from the grocery store is great-tasting, but so expensive!! And despite the cost, we still go through a lot of bread. Now that I’m back, I plan to put on a batch today.

So, within these failings, is there anything that we’ve kept true to? Surely there are some wins among the fails?

Well, although we did buy one box of disposable diapers for the little one, we are now starting to use the cloth diapers I bought (for a fantastic deal!) from a friend. There are several kinds we hadn’t tried before, and we’re just getting our groove with them (babies go through SO MANY DIAPERS!!!), but I feel good that we’re starting off right. With our daughter it took us 11 months before trying cloth.

And overall, we really haven’t bought very much stuff for this baby. In fact, we got rid of a few items that weren’t really necessary. Once our little girl started climbing up the changing table, we got rid of it and started to change her on her bed or on the floor. That has not changed with Nicky, and it’s just one less piece of furniture to worry about.

We also sent our crib to my sister, who is expecting in February. We didn’t use it much with our first, and with a bassinet borrowed from my co-worker, we haven’t missed it with this little guy.

We did, however, buy a single mattress, which will go into the new bed that my family so kindly bought for our girl. We haven’t set up the bed yet, but the mattress is now on the floor of our bedroom, where my husband has been sleeping while I am up on the big bed with the 2 kids. For now, whatever allows the most of us to get the most sleep, is the winning situation! Eventually we’ll hope our little girl will spend more time in her own new bed, but we don’t want to impose too many changes on her all at once during this already-crazy time.

And another win was that we scored a bunch of furniture from our basement “free-cycle” in our apartment building: a virtually new Poang chair and ottoman, and an Aneboda chest of drawers which is now housing all of the new tiny diapers and receiving blankets.

Also in that find were some useful and pretty wooden boxes and a huge butcher-block cutting board that fits right on top of the freezer (both also Ikea). Thanks neighbour!

So that’s it! My frugality update for the ¬†last month or so. I’ll try to post as often as I can, even

The cost of being disorganized

I have a big confession: I’m not a very organized person. ¬†Actually, this one comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. ¬†My house is messy, and in places (beside the stove, under the couch, under our bed) actually dirty. ¬†We have too much junk in our storage locker downstairs, and too much junk on the shelves and in the closets upstairs. ¬†

There are many downsides to this, which I will get to in a moment, but one of the up-sides is that I feel and appreciate every little improvement I make.  Every step I take towards a cleaner, tidier, more organized house, makes me feel very good about myself and my house.

For example, I recently cleaned one shelf in our closet. ¬†It’s the shelf with our towels on it, and if you’ve visited my house I’ve probably shown it to you. ¬†It makes me feel good every time I look at it. ¬†My hope is that this enjoyment will motivate me to tidy up other areas of the house. ¬†

Because, as you can see from the title of this post, disorganization is costing me! ¬†Here’s a list of just a few of the costs of disorganization. ¬†It is also a good recipe for Tear-Water Tea.

Time

– I spend too much time looking for things.

– While I might save small amounts of time not cleaning places like under the couch, whenever I do get around to the job, it will take a long, long time, and possibly some specialty tools to do it properly.

– I have to spend time shopping for things that have gotten lost or broken or ruined.

Money

– Sometimes I have to buy replacements for things I’ve lost or broken.

РLate fees for library books.  More than a couple of times, I have lost a library book for several weeks, resulting in huge fines.  Once, I lost two books, seemingly forever, and ended up paying the replacement fee.  I found them later stuck with baby spit-up to the bottom of the car seat.  Yuck.

РReplacement gifts for things that have gotten ruined while waiting to be given.  This one hurts a lot.  I bought a book that I left on the table, and coffee got spilled on it.

– Late bills that I thought we paid, but actually just put on my desk beside the computer with the intention of paying them. ¬†This costs in a few ways: late penalties, reduced credit scores, and having to pay a big honkin’ bill a couple months later instead of more manageable amounts more frequently.

РAs Frugal Dad mentions, the space that is currently cluttered and filled with unused space, as well as some of that clutter, could be making us money, or at least, could be giving us enjoyment instead of stress.  The closet filled with out-grown baby toys and clothes could be housing my non-maternity clothes which would make my own closet a lot roomier and more pleasant to go into.

Peace of Mind

РIt stresses me out thinking about all of the nooks & crannies & piles & boxes that will some day need to be cleaned and tidied.  My purposeful enjoyment of the spaces I HAVE cleaned is supposed to replace that stress, but I still feel it.

– I hate thinking about all the stuff we own, that’s just sitting there, filling up space. ¬†I hate thinking about how we’re going to get rid of it all. ¬†Re-purpose it, give it away, sell it, garbage it? ¬†There are downsides/complications to each that are hard to face when you’re facing a mountain of stuff.

So there you have it. ¬†A pot of Tear-Water Tea, and a bunch of reasons not to be like me! ¬†I hope this post motivates me (and maybe you too) to get in there and clean something today, even if it’s just one shelf of a closet. ¬†It will reduce the time-, money- and peace-of-mind-stress that is lurking in the clutter.