Consumption Tracking

google calendarI don’t think I’ve written yet about how much I love Google.  How much do I love Google?  Well, pretty much whole-heartedly. I use iGoogle as my homepage–it tells me the weather, my agenda for the day, the phases of the moon (so important 😉 ), and recent news updates.  I don’t have any “office” software on my desktop at home, but use Google Docs instead.  I do use a Moleskine calendar, but I also use Google’s calendar app for many things.  I also store photos on Picasa and of course, have been using Gmail since the days when you had to have a friend “invite” you to use it.

I think the fact that Google rhymes with frugal is no mistake. Their apps have so many functions that can help get you organized and save time.

Today I thought I’d mention something I recently began doing with Google Calendar: tracking my consuption of household items.

With Google Calendar you can create new calendars with different names, to keep track of different types of events.  All your different calendars will be listed under “My Calendars” and you can turn on and off which one(s) you want to view at a time.

I have one calendar for work, one for the community garden I’m involved with, one to track my cycle, one for regular life stuff, and my new one called “Consumption”.  My idea here is to track how long it takes me to go through certain household goods, which will help me to budget for these items, and could even help me to determine savings if I make a change in how I do things.

For example, I am now tracking how long it takes us to go through a package of toilet paper.  I wish I knew the info for before I started using my cloth toilet wipes (for pee only), but I didn’t think to track it back then.

Some items I want to start tracking:

– flour: since I make all my own bread, cookies, and other baked items, I want to know how quickly I go through a 10 kilo bag of flour.  That way I won’t be tempted to stock up with more than I can use before it goes bad.

– laundry soap: how long does it take me to go through a box of laundry soap?  And from this, how much do I spend in a year on laundry soap?  Given this figure, does it make sense to revisit making my own laundry detergent?  Would it save me a significant amount over a year?  The jury is still out . . .

– hand soap: how long does it take me to go through a bar of soap?  I can then determine how much I spend on soap on a yearly basis.  Then if I feel the urge to start making my own, I can determine how much it would save me over the year to make my own (my inkling is it wouldn’t save very much, which is why this isn’t top of my priority list right now!)

– bread: how much bread do we go through?  Just out of curiosity.

– anything else we might buy in bulk, i.e. from Costco, etc.  Like rolled oats, for instance, or brown sugar.

Overall, I’m hoping this tracking calendar will yield some interesting results, and help me to determine where I should concentrate my money-saving efforts.

Do you use Google Calendar?  Any creative ways you use it to save?

Quick Tip #2: Save 30% at The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic! 5% goes to charity

give+getNow I’m not a clothes buyer, or a shopper by nature, but this came into my inbox from Care Canada, a wonderful group doing great work with women overseas, so I thought I’d pass it along.  Plus, 30% off at Old Navy is practically free.

Here’s the Blurb from Care Canada’s website:

Give and Get in time for Back to School!

Give and Get from July 30 – Aug 2. Receive a 30% discount at Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy and Gap Inc. will donate 5% of your purchase price to CARE!

Give and Get in time for Back to School!

CARE’s longtime corporate partner Gap Inc. once again has invited CARE to participate in its seasonal charitable giving program, Give and Get.

From July 30 – August 2, you can receive a 30% discount on purchases made at Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy stores and outlets. When you do, Gap Inc. will donate 5% of all purchases to CARE! Past Give and Get promotions have generated more than $500,000 for CARE’s work around the world!

How does it work? Simply click here to download and print out your coupon. Then, take it with you shopping to Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy from Thursday, July 30 – Sunday, August 2 to receive your discount—and generate donations for CARE. Gap Inc. has asked that each shopper go online and print their own coupon.

Please tell your family and friends about this promotion!

CLICK HERE to download your Give and Get coupon.

We’ll see you in the store!

My Cloth Revolution

Over the past year and a half, I have been a Cloth Revolutionary at my house.  Little by little, disposable paper items are disappearing from our landscape, only to be replaced by colourful, reusable Cloth replacements.

The first step in our Cloth Revolution was the switch to cloth diapers.  We did this when our daughter was 11 months old, after visiting with some friends whose daughter was using cloth. The cloth diapers seemed so cute and cozy, and more “natural” than the crinkly perfumed plastic ones we were using. I was nervous about the workload, but found them not to be that much work. We have a small washer that plugs into our sink, and we dry them (as pictured) on our collapsable drying rack.

The main benefit I saw right away was cost. We went with cotton prefold diapers, which are about the cheapest you can go, and we used some high-tech fleece-lined, microfibre-insert pocket style diapers for night time.  I think the four night time diapes cost around the same as our two dozen prefolds with four or five covers.  It has been great not to worry about having to drive out to Costco to get the best deal on diapers.

My next Revolutionary Act was to replace my tampons and pads with a set of beautiful, comfortable, reusable Lunapads.  This was after doing some reading about how tampons have dioxins in them left over from the bleaching process, which can then be absorbed into your body when you use them.  Also, after having my baby, I found them uncomfortable to use.

As the stickers say, “I ♥ my lunapads”! They are so comfortable and beautiful. The nicest thing about them is that I never run out! I had bought myself an “Intro kit”, and then after using them for a couple of months, I got another kit to round out my collection.  It has a good selection of sizes, thicknesses, etc. for different stages of my cycle. My only disappointment is that I got pregnant again right after my second kit arrived! At least I know they are waiting for me when I start my cycle again.

Next I replaced paper towels with cloth napkins. On a trip to Sudbury to visit my parents I stopped into an adorable new store called Mimi & Lulu. They have all sorts of beautiful handmade clothes, aprons, bags, toys and crafts, as well as a selection of fabrics so beautiful I thought I was looking at a magazine or something. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen such gorgeous fabric in stores, ever.

The best thing (for me) was their remnant bags, a bunch of colour-co-ordinated fabric bits from their collection, mixed with some cute vintage finds, all for $13.  Inside was enough fabric (in the right size) to make more than 10 napkins, some of which I kept & use, and some of which I gave away as gifts.

It’s so nice to use cloth napkins, especially ones in such cute fabrics. They seem to add a touch of class to every meal.

Home-Made Toilet PaperThe next item is a bit more . . . unusual, and I hesitate to mention it in my first post on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, but here goes: the next paper product I replaced was toilet paper.  Well, not entirely, but I made some lovely wipes that my daughter and I use for #1. Being pregnant and having to drink a lot of water, this saves me a huge amount of toilet paper. I just throw them in with the diapies and wash them often.

Moving on, my most recent Revolutionary change was to make some cloth kleenex (tissues). Once again, so cute! Once again, so comfortable! I made them from some cloth I had in mystash, so I consider them basically free to me. We haven’t yet been through a major cold or flu with these, but I will report back on how they fare. I just throw them in any wash I’m doing (except for darks!) and they stay nice and absorbant.

Besides these recent changes, I have always used cloth rags for cleaning rather than paper towels or even J-cloths. It’s a great way to re-purpose old towels and t-shirts, and if a rag gets too dirty, I just throw it away.

For me, this process has been about saving money, being green, and more importantly, finding a better product to replace the cheap disposables in my life. If you have replaced something I’ve missed, please let me know! I’m always open to making more frugal & green changes in my life, and sharing them with the world.

An abundance of plastic containers

astroSince we eat a lot of yogurt, and I have not been successful in getting myself to make my own, or to consistently buy the wonderful organic stuff in re-usable glass jars, we are usually overrun with 750 ml plastic yogurt containers.  Given that I am a saver of stuff, and given that they are not recyclable here in Ottawa (update: I just found out they ARE recyclable here–thanks MomRedefined! Maybe just not in my apartment building?  Or maybe I read an outdated flyer? Not sure, but this might solve my problem!), I tend to save these in a drawer in the kitchen for keeping leftovers in, etc.

However, I am quickly realizing that these yogurt containers are not the thrifty boon I often think they are, and the reason is clear: they are not.  That is, you can’t see inside them!  Even if I dig out a transparent lid, it is still pretty easy to ignore whatever is lurking inside.  Whenever I keep a bit of soup or pasta sauce or what-have-you inside, it inevitably gets unearthed months later with blue and black mould, smelling something awful.

I’ve slowly been realizing that these containers are a black hole in my trying-not-to-waste-food universe.  So is there any reason to keep them?  Sometimes I get my grind-your-own peanut butter in them rather than pay the 45¢ for a new container each time (and you don’t even have to tell them “I brought the container from home”!).  But what else can they be used for?  A few random thoughts:

– single-use craft applications, like mixing paint or paste in

– hiding goodies I don’t want my toddler to see, like cookies.  These won’t get wasted anyway 🙂

– picking berries, as long as berries aren’t stored in them

– avoid them in the first place (I know, I know!)

– save them to bring to Sudbury and recycle them there

Does anyone else have the same problem?  What do you do about your opaque plastic containers?

The “great” depression

I’ve been feeling mildly depressed for the last few days.  I’m not sure why, but I’ve been tired, unmotivated, overwhelmed by small things.  It could be pregnancy fatigue and hormones, or it could be the baking fail I experienced yesterday (why do I trust Internet recipes, WHY???).

When I get like this I get the urge to buy things.  Home appliances, self-care luxuries, shiny electronics.  It’s dangerous.  I know I’m not alone–I believe much of the stuff we buy is often rooted in a desire to feel better, to fix something that feels wrong inside.

So I thought I would share with you one of my techniques for finding a better mood.  It’s rooted in the writings of Dr. David Burns, author of Feeling Good, The Feeling Good Handbook, and the more recent When Panic Attacks, among others. Dr. Burns is a cognitive therapist, and his techniques have been proven through research and clinical trials.

While nothing replaces the power of one-on-one cognitive therapy, when I get down for a few days I find I can usually pull myself out using some of his self-help techniques.

The most basic is the “triple-column system” of writing down your thoughts, identifying the “thinking errors” contained in those thoughts, and then writing a rational response.  You really need to write it (I usually do this on a Google Doc–I insert a table that is 3 columns and 20 rows, though I don’t usually use all the rows); just pondering your problems won’t help.

Identifying the thinking errors is key.  Here is a list of the ten thinking errors:

  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING – Also called Black and White Thinking – Thinking of things in absolute terms, like “always”, “every” or “never”. For example, if your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Few aspects of human behavior are so absolute. Nothing is 100%. No one is all bad, or all good, we all have grades.
  2. OVERGENERALIZATION – Taking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations. For example, you see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat: “She yelled at me. She’s always yelling at me. She must not like me.”
  3. MENTAL FILTER – Focusing exclusively on certain, usually negative or upsetting, aspects of something while ignoring the rest. For example, you selectively hear the one tiny negative thing surrounded by all the HUGE POSITIVE STUFF. Often this includes being associated in negative (”I am so stupid!”), and dissociated in positive (”You have to be pretty smart to do my job”).
  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE – Continually “shooting down” positive experiences for arbitrary, ad hoc reasons. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. The good stuff doesn’t count because the rest of your life is a miserable pile of doo-doo. “That doesn’t count because my life sucks!”
  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS – Assuming something negative where there is actually no evidence to support it. Two specific subtypes are also identified:
    • Mind reading – assuming the intentions of others. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check it out.
    • Fortune telling – anticipating that things will turn out badly, you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
  6. MAGNIFICATION & MINIMIZATION – Exaggerating negatives and understating positives. Often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and negatives understated. There is one subtype of magnification/catastrophizing – focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable: “I can’t stand this.”
  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING – Making decisions and arguments based on how you feel rather than objective reality. People who allow themselves to get caught up in emotional reasoning can become completely blinded to the difference between feelings and facts.
  8. SHOULDING – (Necessity) Must, Can’t thinking. Shoulding is focusing on what you can’t control. For example, you try to enlighten another’s unconscious – they should get it. Concentrating on what you think “should” or ought to be rather than the actual situation you are faced with will simply stress you out. What you choose to do, and then do, will (to some degree, at least) change the world. What you “should” do will just make you miserable.
  9. LABELLING and MISLABELING – Related to overgeneralization, explaining by naming. Rather than describing the specific behavior, you assign a label to someone or yourself that puts them in absolute and unalterable negative terms. This is a logic level error in that we make a logic leap from behavior/action (”he called me a name…”) to identity (”therefore, he’s a jerk”).
  10. PERSONALIZATION & BLAME – Burns calls this distortion “the mother of guilt.” Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. For example, “My son is doing poorly in school. I must be a bad mother…” and “What’s that say about you as a person?” – instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, “lf only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.” Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. On the flip side of personalization is blame. Some people blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.” – instead of investigating their own behavior and beliefs that can be changed.

You might need more information than this, especially when it comes to writing your “Rational Responses”.

But basically the process is like this:

1. At the top of the page, write the emotions you are feeling, and give them percentages.  So if you are feeling a little bit sad, it might be Sad 10% or 20%.  If you are feeling the saddest you’ve ever felt in your life, it would be Sad 90% or 100%.

2. Create a table with three columns and about 20 rows.

3. In the first column, write the thoughts that are plaguing you.  These might be “She hates me”, “Life isn’t fair” or “He should help me with the dishes.”  Don’t write feelings here, but rather your thoughts and judgements about yourself and the world.

4. For each thought in column 1, read through the Thinking Errors and then write the errors that apply to each thought in column 2.  There might be just one or there might be several.

5. This is the magic one.  Based on the thinking error you’ve identified, in column 3, you write a rational response based on logic, and find a way to replace your flawed thinking with something that makes more sense.

This is the technique in a nutshell.  I’ve created an example that you can view (and use yourself–just remember to “Save a Copy” and make sure it is not public before you start sharing your deepest & darkest!).  Click here for my example chart.

I really recommend reading Dr. Burns’s books for a deeper analysis of the thinking errors, as well as examples of more logical thinking.  He also has other techniques that work best for different problems, like procrastination, self-esteem issues, etc.

This technique works well for mild cases of depression or a persistent bad mood. If you are thinking about or considering killing yourself, call 911 (or your local emergency number) right away. If you have ongoing depression, any place is a good place to start, and self-help techniques are clinically proven to work well, but it can be very helpful to work with a therapist as well.

Let me know your techniques for breaking out of a bad frame of mind!

Confessions of an Organized Housewife

I mentioned upon my return from my holidays that I had borrowed a couple of books from my mom.  Well, this is one of them, and frankly the more exciting of the two.  I’ve borrowed it at least once before, and it’s really quite awesome.

To begin with, there’s the title.  For some reason, it speaks to me.  She is confessing her clean little secret, and really, she’s proud of it.  I guess part of me really wants to be an organized housewife, just like her.

So what does she offer? Plenty!  Here is a breakdown of the gems to be found in this book:

– pep talks that work.  Really.  After reading this book I often come away actually excited about cleaning and organizing my house.  She points out that by working on improving your technique, you raise houswork out of the mundane into a craft. She also discusses the benefits of having a clean and orderly house, including the feelings of peace and enjoyment of the home.  To me, this is a frugal thought: if we like being at home, we will be less driven to leave it for expensive alternatives.

– six “Basic Organizing Principles” including: Think Before You Act, wherein you stop working by habit and instead think through all the steps of a project or day or organization of a room, looking for the most logical time-saving way to approach it; Discard and Sort, wherein you de-clutter each area of your home so that there is “a place for everything and everything in its place” and everything you have on hand is useful and used; Group, which is pretty self-explanatory, except that she often groups by use instead of by type so that you might keep all your baking spices with your baking stuff and all your savoury spices near the stove if that’s where you use them, instead of keeping all your spices together; Be Motion Minded, considering how you move in a room, and saving time by putting things close at hand; Use Your Accrued Benefits, wherein you learn that it makes more sense to iron 6 shirts at a time, than to iron one shirt at a time six times; Do it Daily, so that things don’t get out of hand; and finally, become an “Indoor Scout“, leaving a room better than you found it each time.

– advice for building your own planner that will accomodate your and your family’s needs.

– efficient ways of moving through the house methodically so that you’re not re-tracing your steps or wasting time.  The coolest idea here is her housework cart that she uses, like a hotel chambermaid.  It’s totally collapsable and handles garbage, laundry, sorting of “stuff”, and cleaning all in one amazing little buggy!  Seriously, I’m building me one of these.

There’s lots of other tips here, many of which involve using labelled containers to sort stuff in cupboards, etc., but you should really read the book if you want to get into that much detail.

I’ll end with the most reassuring part of the book, the second-last chapter which is called “Where to Start”.  In case you have a tendancy to get massively overwhelmed by books like this, she has a little checklist with the basics that should be covered before you move on to more ambitious home organization projects.  The basics:

– I am able to keep the house picked up; check, for the most part.

– I am able to keep the laundry current; check.

– Meals are well-prepared and served regularly; check

– The kitchen is usually in good order; thanks to my partner doing the dishes every night, this is also a check

– Bathrooms are cleaned and straightened regularly; this is a new one, but I’m doing pretty checking good on it so far

– I am able to keep entry areas clean and tidy; hmmm

Well, I’m doing pretty good on 5 out of 6, so maybe the entry way is a good place to start.  In any case, I’m very reassured that I am winning at 5 of these basics.  Her recipe for starting a new level of cleanliness is to give yourself and your family six weeks to get used to it.

So, starting today I will aim to keep my entry area clean and tidy, thus basically completing all six of her basics, and preparing to enter a new level of household organization.

That is, until Tiny Baby arrives.  After that, I make no promises.

Getting Wasted

I can’t believe I’ve been so blind.  This is really a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

On the one hand–the “right” hand in this case–I’ve been shopping wisely, comparing supermarkets, clipping coupons, turning off lights and appliances, making my own laundry detergent, washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar, even wiping with re-usable toilet cloth for goodness sake!

On the other hand, I have been letting food rot and throwing it in the garbage! That’s like taking cash money and throwing it in the garbage.  It doesn’t matter if I took the bus to Price Chopper and got those asparagus for $2 instead of for $3.50 at Hartman’s. If I let them sit in the fridge for 2 weeks and then throw them in the garbage once they get too smelly to ignore, all my frugal good intentions fly out the window when I waste food like this.

Sigh.  I feel so guilty.

But to combat this bad habit that has been plaguing me (without my really acknowledging it) for too long now, I am setting a new challenge for myself: to waste less food!

I realize I should create a measurable goal for myself, like “waste no more than $5 worth of food per week” or “reduce food waste by 50%” but to be honest, I don’t even know how much I’ve been wasting, and so I don’t know exactly what’s reasonable to expect of myself.

But I do have some strategies to achieve “my” goal, and here they are:

– calculate the cost of the food I throw away.  This will mean recording what I paid for it (in my Ottawa Grocery Price Book), and then weighing or estimating the value of the waste.  Hopefully this will sink into my consciousness that throwing food away isn’t just “cleaning the fridge” but “throwing money in the garbage”.

– not buying anything perishable unless I have a specific plan for it.  This means tinkering more carefully with my meal plans and making sure I can work what I buy into the meals I’m planning.

– cleaning out the fridge and freezer (and recording what I’ve wasted) so I can see what’s in there.  Also, not storing anything in opaque containers in the fridge, so I can easily see the food I’m storing.

– checking the fridge, freezer and pantry before I plan my meals and/or go shopping, so anything that’s about to go bad can get included in the soonest meal possible.

– probably make more soups, into which I can throw my miscellany of nearly-spoiled vegetables.  And then eat them.

I’m hoping this will also help me to be better organized around lunches.  There are many days when I forget to plan and then finding myself taking a peanut butter sandwich to work.  It’s not really that bad–freshly ground peanut butter on home-made sourdough–but my partner finds it isn’t quite enough to sustain him for the day.  Planning my meals more carefully to avoid wasting might force me to make sure I’ve got lunch stuff planned too.

I will report back with my progress, and let you know which strategies work and which don’t.  And in the mean time, I’m going to give that asparagus one more sniff . . .