Monday, July 24, 2017

Go Ahead: Hold your baby!!!

OK. I am just putting this out there for any new moms who might be feeling mom guilt (it's everywhere!).

Before I had my first son I didn't think too much about the snuggles. After he was born, he needed lots of snuggles. And I wanted to hold him and snuggle and bond as much as possible. I felt guilty about this. People made me feel guilty about this (he is almost 4 now and he had no troubles adjusting to full time daycare or daycare naps at 13 months). 

When I had my second son I felt physically and mentally compelled to continue the snuggles, although it is a bit different as all babies have their own needs. Again, I was feeling like this must be a problem. 

Then, I had an epiphany. I was being so foolish. If I am lucky, I might live to see my babies reach 55 or 60. Of those 60 years, there will only be one....ONE where I can cuddle and snuggle my babies as much as I want to and as much as they want to. Why would I feel like I am doing something wrong by spending this special time with my baby? Have I ever said to myself, "gee, I wish I had alphabetized my cookbooks when Boy #1 was a baby instead of cuddling him". No!! Have I ever thought "wow I really hugged Boy #1 too much as an infant "?  NO!!!

More and more research is showing the benefits of lots of physical touch for infants.  You cannot spoil an infant!!! (Although you can spoil a child - but not from cuddles!).  I never wore either of my kids, but I feel like I sort of did for the first three months just from holding and cuddling them.  It is hard to explain how I felt compelled to be close to them.  It wasn't a philosophy I adopted - it just felt like it was what I needed and what they needed.  I also - brace yourselves - rocked Boy #1 to sleep every night until he was just over a year old.  He needed it.  Boy #2 has not been rocked to sleep one single time.  It's not his thing.

It is sad that everyone tries to tell other moms what to do.  New moms should feel confident.  If it is working for you and your baby - embrace it!  Love it!  Don't listen to the sanctimommies.  
Babies need our love and every mom(and dad) has their own way of bonding and communicating with their child. All that to say - new moms do not feel guilty about snuggling your wee ones. This opportunity will not come again.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: Mid July Update

Well, here we are in mid-July already.  So far this month I have spent $190.00 on groceries.  I do not plan on spending too much more, as I am fully stocked and just did a big shop for the coming weeks (except for milk and cheese).  I still have a frozen turkey on hand, some cooked frozen meat in the freezer, ground beef in the freezer, some frozen fish, and lots of beans.

The Great Grocery Project started one year ago in September - so after next month I will be doing a monster recap and breakdown of our yearly spend.  Of course, I plan to continue this project for a second year.  Since I have been off work for almost the entire year I was tracking (first on medical leave after complication during pregnancy, then on maternity leave) I need to continue for a second year and see how being back at work impacts the numbers and where we can make improvements.

I tried a new product this month that I am really enjoying.  Oikos Super Grain Greek Yogurts (available in Canada).  I am very fussy about my yogurts.  I really enjoy these - especially the Peach Super Grains and the Berry Super Grains.  I will be watching for sales on this product.

How have we saved money so far this month?

By not doing anything!!! We have been enjoying simple days at the park, the splash pad, on the bike trails, and around our house.  I picked up some "treats" on clearance at Walmart - sidewalk chalk and 1L of bubbles on clearance for $1.00 each.  A $5.00 spend will provide us with hours of fun.  I also allowed my son to pick out one thing at Walmart (within reason).  He picked a box of Crayola pencil crayons on sale for $2.77.  He has spent literally hours playing with them and drawing sweet nothings in his book.  Did you know that pencil crayons can also double as Superheroes and Super Villains?  Heroes in the right hand and villains in the left.  One apparently can colour over the other with green goo (also known as Green Pencil Crayon).

I bought some cardstock on clearance at Walmart for $4.00.  I plan to use it as I try to start making some of my DIY Christmas gifts.  I am hoping to start working on these in August.

Someone handed down a box full of books and Brain Quest cards to us.  Again, hours and hours of entertainment.  We have read Curious George Gets a Pizza about ten times a day for the past week.

I ordered a 1L Tupperware water bottle for my husband as his bottle needed replacing.  I also got a little treat for my son's Christmas or birthday gift (have not decided yet).  A Donald Duck water bottle.  It was on clearance for over 50% off.

This month I have done lots of reading (I am a prolific reader but find it hard to do with an infant).  I have been "napping" with my son so we can snuggle before I have to return to work.  Typically while he naps I am reading.  I have read several books that I received as gifts, but I do lots of reading online.  I love reading The Prudent Homemaker and Tablet Magazine.

Books I have read recently include:
The Undoing Project

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Wearing the Green Beret

The Nazis Next Door


All of these books were excellent reads (if you're wondering) and they all express many different viewpoints and life experiences.  I didn't really care for some of the political slant to The Undoing Project (just didn't agree with it - but I still enjoyed reading the book) and my eyes kind of glazed over at some of the math stuff - but it is a fascinating biography and absolutely worth reading.  It is by the same author who wrote Moneyball, Michael Lewis.

I have a pile of books just waiting for me to read them - but I am not sure when I will get to them next.

Well we will leave it at that for now.  It is naptime, ie....reading time.   Have a wonderful week!!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Popular Posts Round-Up

Are you new to Life Freedom Family?  Welcome, and thank you for stopping by.  We appreciate our readers and love to hear from you.

Maybe you are sitting around on a rainy summer day and looking for some inspiration...
here is a sampling of our most popular posts for your browsing pleasure:

Chocolate Cream Pie

Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum vs. Costco Executive Membership

An Affordable, DIY Guest Bedroom

Total (Affordable) Closet Overhaul

The Friday Night Dinner Project, Midway Point

The Easiest DIY Headboard (For Real)

Entertainment Unit Upcycle

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Giving Birth

A Note for the Husband of a Breastfeeding Mom

Rosh Hashanah Dinner Menu (Friday Night Dinner Project)

So fix yourself a glass of Rhubarb Lemonade and enjoy these posts!  Feel free to share them with a friend....
Thank you for stopping by!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fantastic Advice from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts

I have sat through many, many graduations and heard a lot of boring speeches.  This one, given by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts at his son's graduation is worth reading.  I especially love this part:

Once a week, you should write a note to someone. Not an email. A note on a piece of paper. It will take you exactly 10 minutes. Talk to an adult, let them tell you what a stamp is. You can put the stamp on the envelope. Again, 10 minutes, once a week. I will help you, right now. I will dictate to you the first note you should write. It will say, ‘Dear [fill in the name of a teacher at Cardigan Mountain School].’ Say: ‘I have started at this new school. We are reading [blank] in English. Football or soccer practice is hard, but I’m enjoying it. Thank you for teaching me.’ Put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and send it. It will mean a great deal to people who — for reasons most of us cannot contemplate — have dedicated themselves to teaching middle school boys. As I said, that will take you exactly 10 minutes a week. By the end of the school year, you will have sent notes to 40 people. Forty people will feel a little more special because you did, and they will think you are very special because of what you did. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Great Grocery Project: June Update

This month I spend a whopping $482.36 on groceries.  Wow.  That is a lot (but still less than the average $750/month that the Canadian household of 4 people spends).  Why so much?  Well, typically my biggest spend months of the year are June, July and October.  Why?  In the summer I am stocking up on Ontario grown produce for freezing and canning, and in October a lot of pantry and baking supplies are on sale.  There are two main reasons for the big spike this month:

1.  Produce - I spent $90.00 buying 3 flats of strawberries.  This works out to about $2.50 a pound if you are wondering.  I read about people getting strawberries for .99/lb in the States, but that just does not happen here.  Even the Pick Your Own in the GTA is typically $2.25lb.  We ate a great deal of fresh berries, but I also froze many to use in smoothies and baking.  You can also use frozen berries to make jam at a later date.  I am not sure how much canning I am going to do this year, although I typically do quite a bit.

I also bought about $15.00 worth of grapes to freeze because they were on sale for 0.88lb.  That is the lowest price I have seen on grapes in years.  It was a Canada Day special.  Frozen grapes are great for smoothies, but they also make a nice snack on their own.

2.  Essentials Stock up - I was just out of many things this month like flour, sugar, brown sugar, cheese, eggs, butter, milk, cream, etc.  Those things add up pretty quickly.

What did we spend all that money on?

Produce - $205.91  See note #1 above regarding the produce.  After tracking every penny of our grocery spend for 10 months now, the emerging pattern is that produce and dairy are typically the biggest expenses.  We are slowing expanding our garden in hopes of reducing this expense a bit more.  We definitely do not live in a climate where we can produce year round produce at our house.  

Dairy - $103.19 We were out of everything this month - cheese, milk, cream, eggs, butter.  If you are reading this from another country and wondering why we spend so much on dairy here is an idea of what things cost in Ontario:
Milk - Typically $4.97 is a good price for 4 Liters of milk.  You used to be able to get milk many places for $3.97 for 3 liters but this is less common now, and not possible at all if you purchase fine filtered milk.
Butter - The regular retail price of butter here is about $6.99/lb.  I never pay this.  Costco used to sell butter for $2.85/lb but I have not seen this price since before Christmas.  Even at Costco butter is now $3.99/lb.  Metro had butter on sale this week for $3.33/lb so I went to pick some up and it was completely sold out.  Not a single pound of butter left in the store.
Eggs - Shoppers Drug Mart used to regularly sell eggs for $1.88 or $1.77/dozen as a loss leader.  The cheapest they sell them in our area now is $1.99/dozen.  Sometimes I am able to get cartons of 18 eggs 2 for $5.00.  That is a good price for eggs here.
Cheese - A good sale price for cheese here is $3.97 or $4.44 for a 450g block.  Any type of specialty cheese here is expensive.

We could lower our grocery bill by cutting dairy, but it is not something I am willing to do.  We drink milk and I cook everything from scratch so we keep a lot of these dairy staples in stock.  This is just the cost of living in Canada where the dairy industry (and poultry, and other agricultural staples) is controlled by a quota system which makes the prices significantly higher.

Pantry - $91.64  This was just a restock of many baking essentials like flour, sugar, brown sugar, etc.

Beverages - $22.35  This is more than my usual almost zero spend.  The reason for this is I attended several social events where I was bringing the beverages.  The good news is I was able to price match on Orange Juice for several brunches, saving about $15.00.

Prepared Foods - $16.90

Dips - $5.99  Sabra Hummous.  I just have not found a hummous recipe that I like as much as this.

Frozen Foods - $5.98

Going forward:
Over the past few months, I have been collecting recipes for various bread items such as naan bread, croissants, specialty breads, etc.  As time permits, I am going to start working through these recipes to see if we will be reducing any of our bread costs.

I have lots of food on hand as we start the month of July, so I am not expecting our spend this month to be even close to what I spent in June.

I continue to cook almost everything we eat from scratch (as always).

Some of the recipes we made this month included:

Gourmet Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies from an old Cooking With Mickey cookbook.  This is a delicious cookie recipe.  The next time I make it I am going to sub in Herhey's Carmael Sea Salt Chipits for some of the chocolate chunks.

Slow Cooker Refried Beans from The Pioneer Woman.  I have been trying various Refried Bean recipes in my CrockPot, and I really like this one.  Refried beans are healthy and great to use for various meals - I served these to make Bean Burritos, Beans and Rice, and then as a side dish (dabbed with BBQ sauce) with Slow Cooker Scalloped Potatoes (see below) and mixed vegetables

Museum Pasta Salad from The Prudent Homemaker.  This is a refreshing salad for a hot day and it easily made with turkey.  I did not have rice vinegar or sugar snap peas on hand - I substituted apple cider vinegar with a bit of sugar and frozen peas.

Slow Cooker Scalloped Potatoes from Ricardo.  Creamy and delicious - hands down the easiest scalloped potatoes recipe you will find anywhere.  When I do not have evaporated milk on hand I just use Half and Half Cream instead.

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars - from The Pioneer Woman.  You could make these to use up any type of jam.  I used blueberry.  They were quick, easy, and yummy.

Naked Strawberries and Cream Cake - You need to purchase the current issue of Ricardo to get this recipe - you can find a similar one here - but it is not the same recipe

I also made a Curried Pumpkin Apple Maple Soup - I could not find the exact recipe online and do not want to reprint without permission, but if you search it you will find many similar recipes.

What did we do to save money this month?

1.  Price Match - I price match when I shop at No Frills.  It is simple and easy and saves me money relatively often.  I also buy a lot of discounted bread (50% off) and throw it in the freezer as soon I get home.

2.  Ebates Cheque - I got an Ebates cheque.  I used half of it to buy groceries, and the other half to contribute towards a retirement gift for a colleague.

3.  Snowsuit Purchase - My eldest son has been wearing his snowsuit for a few years.  I stretch at the use as long as possible - but he is a preschooler - they grow!!  At the end of the season I looked everywhere trying to find the same snowsuit on end of season clearance but with no luck.  I was even phoning the outlets to see if it was coming in or if they had it in his size.  No luck.  I had almost given up, but then I had to travel to Vaughan to pick up something so I stopped in at Vaughan Mills.  In June.  Wouldn't you know they had just received a large shipment of the desired winter parka and snowpants in my son's size.  This saved me about $170.00 before tax on both items and the snowsuit will hopefully last at least 2 seasons.  Then, they get handed down to the next son.  My tip is to get the downfilled snowsuits if you live in a very cold climate.  They do cost more, but I find I can make them last for more seasons because they are not as bulky as other ones and allow extra room for layering when they are a bit big, but then are warm enough that you don't need the layers and they start to get a bit snug.

4.  Careful Research - There were a few items I had to buy this month (which never feels like you're saving money), and I was able to save a few dollars by carefully researching my purchases.  We had to buy a new carseat for my youngest son.  Son #1 lasted in his bucket seat until 13 months.  Son #2 is growing like a weed and only lasted 6 1/2 months in the bucket seat.  Bummer.  Carseats generally don't go on crazy sales because it is such a necessity that retailers don't need to steeply discount them.  They are generally the same price everywhere.  After carefully researching, I was able to find the seat we wanted (Diono Radian RXT) for $40.00 less on Amazon than anywhere else.
We also had to get a mirror for our renovations.  I checked some second hand places but could not find what I was looking for.  We are on a deadline so I set myself a budget of $50.00.  This is very little to buy a brand new, large, hanging mirror.  I just kept looking until I found one.  I finally found a mirror on clearance at The Bay (online).  It was reduced by over 50% to $54.99.  In addition to this, I had a coupon code for an extra 15% off (essentially no tax if you live in Canada), and it was 5% cashback from Ebates.  Every little bit of savings helps.

5.  Just say no!  I really want to buy some clothes.  I have been pregnant or breastfeeding, or both, for 4 years+ at this point.  With both pregnancies I gained over 60lbs.  I lost all the weight after my first pregnancy, and have about 10 pounds left to lose from pregnancy #2.  Throughout all this I have purchased very few clothes because....weight up....weight down......massive swelling.......shoe size has changed......I'm a human marshmallow and then I am not.  My face however seems to always look like marshmallow....I really hope this goes away once I stop breastfeeding and childbearing for good.  Anyway - the end result is that I literally have not one single pair of summer shorts left that are not athletic wear.  All my shirts are stretched out.  I have some really cute sundresses I could wear - but they do not work while breastfeeding.  I cannot bring myself to buy any new clothes when I know that in a few months I will be in a totally different size again.  It is very tempting though.  In the end, I bought myself a really cute, plain, versatile shirt dress from Old Navy for $15.00.  Every time I have to go somewhere this summer I have worn this dress over a pair of capri leggings so that I can lift it up a bit to breastfeed without flashing everyone.  It will work until the weather will accommodate me wearing jeans, which I do have several pairs that sort of fit.  Anyway, I have decided that it is my priority to get a good haircut this summer (I have not had a good haircut for one year now) so I will be putting my money towards that.

And that is our little roundup for June.  It was a busy, productive month with loads of rain.

I am looking forward to enjoying amazing Ontario fresh food during the month of July.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Three Ways to Save Money on Groceries Without Buying Less

Are you looking to save money on groceries but not quite ready to become a total frugalista?  Perhaps you recently decided to monitor your spending more closely, or you are interested in becoming more frugal but you are not quite ready to start making all your food from scratch and radically change your eating habits.  That is ok.  Sometimes becoming more frugal can require major lifestyle changes, but it can also come in small, simple changes to your regular habits.  Consider the following tips a gateway on your journey to smarter spending.

Save Money Without Buying Less By:

1.  Price Matching
If the idea of flipping through a zillion fliers and then holding up the line at the grocery store does not sound like your idea of fun, I do not blame you.  Price matching does not have to be a burden.  It can be easy and rewarding.  Not only will it save you money on groceries, it will save you money on gas and time when you are not running from store to store trying to get the best price.  Find a store where you can price match with a few other retailers.  My local No Frills will price match with Metro and Walmart.  Three flyers.  That is doable.  If it is not on sale at one of these three stores, I likely can wait to purchase it until it is.  I circle everything in the fliers that I want to price match and put all these items on the counter first when I go to check out.  Being organized makes the price matching go very quickly and it does not feel like a burden at all.  Price Matching saves me, on average, about $10-$12 per week.  A friend with a large family told me that she saves about $50.00 a week by price matching.  This is a big savings without you having to change what you are buying or eating.

2.  Join a Rewards Program
Does your supermarket offer a rewards program?  Is it worth switching to get one?  I try to get double rewards on all trips to the supermarket.  Most of my grocery shopping is done at Costco (where I have an Executive Membership), No Frills (where I have PC Plus), or Shoppers Drug Mart (Optimum Rewards).  You can read about Costco Rewards vs. Optimum rewards by clicking here.  In addition to this, I use my BMO World Elite MasterCard to earn points.  Everything spent on groceries is tracked, and I pay off my MasterCard every two weeks to make sure that I never pay interest.  Every year I redeem approximately $1000.00 in Optimum points.  Many rewards programs also send specific coupons to you that are tailored to your shopping habits.  This is the first year I started using PC Plus so I cannot say yet how satisfied I am with that rewards program, but I will update on that later.  Most major food retailers in Canada offer some type of customer loyalty program - you should join one.

3.  Shop at a Discount Grocer
Discount grocers carry many of the same products as non-discount grocers, but typically at a lower price.  Think No Frills versus Loblaw, or Food Basics versus Metro, FreshCo. versus Sobeys.  Buying the same things, but at a different retailer can save you money every time you go to the store.  Every time.  Without changing what you are actually buying.  If you are a produce or meat snob (I can confess to sometimes being like this), you can always purchase these particular items at a different location.  However, after trying out various locations I found a discount grocer with a fantastic produce section where I am more than happy with the quality and selection of produce and they price match produce sales at other stores.

How much money will all this save you?  It is hard for me to give an accurate estimate for #3, but for #1 and #2 combined I know that I am saving roughly $1500.00 - $2000.00 annually.  That is not included the reward points I get on my MasterCard which we use for travel.

So what are you waiting for?  These three simple things, with no changes to what you buy, can start you on the path to saving thousands of dollars every year.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Getting rid of stuff? Try a Curbside Giveaway

Minimalize.  Declutter.  Organize.  Offload.  Tidying.  The blogosphere is abuzz with tips and tricks on how to get rid of "stuff" in one of the latest lifestyle trends.  Who doesn't want to be tidy?  I am all for getting rid of unnecessary stuff that brings no joy to your life (to borrow a little phrase from Marie Kondo (no, I actually have not read her book).  When I think of being tidy it makes me feel good.  Everything clean.  Everything tidy.  Everything in its place.  On the other hand, when I hear "minimalist" I start to feel like this is the virtue-signaling of domestic dudes and divas.  There is nothing wrong with having stuff.  There is nothing wrong with having very little stuff.  The trick is to find the equilibrium point for you and your family and then to not feel guilty about it.  If you have kids, you know how hard it is to not accumulate stuff.  If I go down to my storage room I have about 12 bins (4 years and multiple sizes) worth of little boys clothes, toys, and necessities.  Why?  Because they are being handed down from one son to the next.  When I know that we are done having kids - GOODBYE BINS - oh that will be such a great day for decluttering, and such a sad day for this mom, knowing that there will be no more little ones in our house to wear the one piece snowsuit, or Blue Shark tilly hat I love so much.

Wait, where was I?  Oh YES......getting rid of stuff.

If you have much to rid of, you could always do the obvious:
a) Kijiji
b) Yard Sale
c) Donate to a charity shop
d) Freecycle if you live in the UK

but have you ever considered a curbside giveaway?

This week, I traveled to York Region to pick up some materials for our renovation and I saw some very cool signs posted around advertising a Curbside Giveaway Day.  What a great idea!  I love this.  Residents are asked to put out whatever they are getting rid of (not garbage!) with a sign marked "FREE" by 7am on Curbside Giveaway.  That's it.  Presto.  You can browse the neighbourhood and take what you need, then at 5pm residents are asked to remove any leftover items from the curbside.  The town provides a list of way to dispose of any remaining unwanted items.  I love this because it is so simple, so straightforward, so FREE.  This is a community building activity.  If you have a bunch of things you are looking to get rid of, why not consider organizing a Curbside Giveaway day in your own neighbourhood or community?
Giveaway Posters from York Region